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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Duval County's spin doctor

Duval County Public Schools received some devastating news when Florida’s school rankings came out. Eight of our neighborhood high schools are in the bottom 25 including the lowest ranked at 404 in the state.

Our superintendent as usual put a positive spin on it and talked about two of our schools being in the top 12, rigor and our college ready curriculum. Sadly however his spin doesn’t hold up.

The two high schools in the top 12 are Paxon and Stanton, magnet schools for our top kids and remember when Stanton and Paxon were number five and twelve in the nation? Now they are that way in just the state.

There is also a difference between rigorous and advanced classes. Rigor has been destroyed by grade recovery and the districts gentlemen’s C policy, where we pass kids along whether they have the skills they need or not. Half of our kids don’t get to high school and not be able to read or do math by accident.

Finally ask Florida State College at Jacksonville where 70% of our graduates have to take remedial classes how well our college prep curriculum is doing.

I don’t think it is fair to compare Duval to St. Johns or Cay or other neighboring districts. Quite frankly our district is both a lot bigger and a lot poorer.

But what about comparing our district to Miami Dade? They have three times as many kids as us and have an even higher percentage of students receiving fee and reduced lunch. In last weeks rankings of districts they were 37th and we were 50th! We have eight high schools in the bottom 25 and they have five while having nearly three times as many high schools. Furthermore we may have two in the top twelve but they have four in the top nine.

I am sure Miami Dade has issues, but many of them are the same as ours and they are doing a much better job handling them.

The problem here is our leadership. Since Pratt-Dannals became superintendent, rigor has been gutted, discipline has been gutter and he has greatly contributed to teacher morale being gutted. His constant all is well message is both wrong and does the city a disservice by giving it a false sense of security.

It’s time we thanked him for his service and moved in a different direction, one with rigor, discipline and teacher buy in.

Chris Guerrieri
Stake Holder

Prayer and Advertising on busses gain traction, funding education still ignored

From the Tampa Bay Times

by Jeff Solochek

Two bills that gained little traction in past years have picked up momentum this season as they head for full floor votes in the coming days.

Sen. Gary Siplin's legislation to permit prayers at school-related events is scheduled for a third reading by the Senate after having made it through three committees. In past years, it couldn't get past panels that raised major concerns about its constitutionality.

This year, a rewrite spearheaded by Sen. David Simmons, a lawyer, is easing the path by making it clear that the prayers must be completely run by students without any school employee influence or participation. Even if the bill passes the Senate, it has yet to be heard in a single House committee, though.

On the House side, Rep. Irv Slosberg's bill to let school districts sell ads on the sides of buses has gone to the Calendar committee to be scheduled for a floor vote. That idea failed to move in past years, but this time out lawmakers have begun to agree -- however reluctantly -- that this revenue source might be worth approving.

The opposition has argued that children shouldn't be exposed to direct advertising such as this might provide. But they're in the distinct minority so far. A similar bill in the Senate has made its way through two committees and is headed to a third before it can go to the floor

Teachers deserve thanks not ranks

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Amidst a Mary McGrory FCAT rankings piece in the Miami Herald was this takeaway in a quote from Miami-Dade County superintendent Alberto Carvalho:

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he took pride in the district’s accomplishments, but contended that “overall rankings provide an overly simplistic view of academic success.”

Carvalho added: “Thanking, not ranking, a teacher in Miami is in order.”

While Carvalho’s not alone among Florida educators whom have been critical of the Rick Scott’s FCAT rankings gambit, his voice is not insignificant. Not only is he the leader of the state’s largest district, Carvalho now operates on a national stage. He testified to congress in September in an appearance that received high praise.

The Miami-Dade superintendent will be among the next generation of education policy-makers. Lets hope he doesn’t succumb to the blind dogmatic rhetoric of the current crop in Tallahassee, and that he advances the sort of nuanced wisdom he displayed yesterday.

Experience in education matters

From an article by Diane Ravitch

When I saw Linda Darling-Hammond last week in California, she gave me charts from the U.S. Department of Education's Schools and Staffing Survey which show that the modal years of teaching experience in 1987-88 was 15 meaning that there were more teachers with 15 years of experience than any other group); in the latest published survey, 2007-08, the modal years of experience was one. That means that in 2008 there were more teachers in their first year of teaching than any other group. This is frightening. What sane nation would want to lose its experienced teachers and rely increasingly on newcomers?

People also forget that just a couple years ago Florida was recruiting in India and Canada because it could not find enough teachers here. What are we going to do when the economy turns around? People wanted to be teachers before because making a difference in young people’s lives was important to them unfortunately the field has been reduced to drones teaching to the test.

Education deformers beat the experience doesn’t matter drum every chance they get and we wonder why education is in trouble. The truth is the vast majority of education reformers don’t care about what happens to our children; they are just trying to make a buck.

The solutions to Duval's education problems are in our grasp

I hear it all the time we must hold parents accountable and I agree but that's not what schools can do. Schools don't fine or arrest or pass out tickets, we can rightfully blame parents all day long but that doesn’t help solve the problems in our classrooms. We need solutions we can implement and do so quickly. What is so frustrating is the solutions are there too and they don't involve breaking the back, reinventing the wheel, demonizing teachers and outsourcing our kid’s education. Schools simply need to control what they can, while the kids are there

We have rigorous classes and if a kid doesn’t pass he doesn’t go to the next level. We have disciplined schools, if a kid acts up they get a real consequence for bad behavior and then we get back teacher buy in, we allow them to use creativity, innovation and flexibility instead of making them carbon copy drones drowning in paper work, and we support them, by disciplining kids and putting some of the onus back on the kids and their families if they pass or fail or not. Right now teachers have all the responsibility but none of the authority.

We start with those three things, after some initial pain because we are in a pretty deep hole, then we will see some real gains.

Then down the road once we get control if we added things like multiple curriculums that teach the arts, trades and skills (not everybody is going to go to college and that is okay), legitimate summer school, not kids thrown in front of a computer, busses so we can keep kids after school for remediation and discipline and social workers and counselors because so often why a kid acts up or doesn’t try in school has nothing to do with school, there is no reason we couldn’t be a first class school district.

The Florida legislature snubs parents again and again

It used to be the Florida legislature would just ignore teachers. Since teachers unions usually vote with democrats they reasoned they didn’t really represent them anyways. Now however the legislature feels that can ignore parents too.

Parent group after parent group has come out against, the parent trigger. It would be one thing if those lazy selfish teachers were against it right, after all the legislature reasons they are only looking out for their self interests not what’s best for their students, but aren’t parents supposed to be better? Isn’t their concern just their kids?
Apparently not, as the Florida legislature is disregarding them too! The party that says they are for parent choice (re: privatization) is now ignoring what the parents want.

Parents groups have also come out against the siphoning away of additional public money to charter schools, many of which are for profit, too and the legislature has snubbed their nose at them again.

These two bills are quickly making their way through the legislature without the backing of teachers, school boards, the people locally elected to handle education, and parents too. The legislature doesn’t care what they think.

Read that again parents, they don’t care what you think.

More parent's groups ignored by the Florida legislature

From Tampa Bay.coms Gradebook

by Jeff Solochek

As we reported back in December, Florida lawmakers have proposed several new ways to expand charter schools, including a bill that would force school districts to share their capital outlay tax revenue with charters.

A coalition of parent groups that recently came out against a "parent empowerment" bill moving through the Legislature today blasted the charter school effort.

"These are funds from the taxpayer/voter supported millage levy specifically meant to keep publicly-owned school facilities safe and modern. Voters never intended to use this revenue to improve, maintain, rent, build, or buy facilities for private people," they said in a joint statement.

The Senate is scheduled to have its first committee review of this bill today. The House version has been scheduled but not yet heard.

The groups in the coalition include Citizens for Strong Schools, Fund Education Now, Save Duval Schools, 50th No More, Support Dade Schools and Marions United for Public Education.

The Parent Trigger shoots education in the foot

From the Sun Sentinel's editorial board

It's understandable that parents who have seen little improvement in their children's poor-performing Florida schools would have itchy trigger fingers.

So what does the Legislature propose? Putting a powerful weapon in the hands of untrained parents. Last week, state House and Senate committees endorsed so-called "parent trigger" bills that would empower 51-percent parent majorities to select a "turnaround plan" for schools with a three-year streak of poor results.

Florida's take on a California law that's getting national attention has, among its cures, converting to a charter school or calling in a private-management company.

Nothing wrong with that. Unless you believe in representative government. That's just one problem with the parental trigger, a simplistic, legislative overreach that assaults home rule, woos privatization, and leaves complex decisions in novice hands.

Under the bills (HB 1191 and SB 1718), a majority of parental petition-signers could pick an improvement plan. If the school board decides a different plan would work better, the state Board of Education gets to pick a winner — possibly trumping the local school board.

We know this sounds appealing in places like Broward County, where the School Board that is supposed to govern academics has been a mess.

But with a parental trigger, private education companies could chum the waters in beleaguered districts with political campaigns to tilt parents toward privatization. And why not? "For-profit entities," notes Kathleen Oropeza, a founder of Fund Education Now, could gobble up schools "built and wholly owned by the taxpayers of Orange County" — or any other district.

We're also troubled that parents — often too busy even for PTA meetings — would face a steep and brief learning curve in making such a game-changing call.

As Mark Phillips, professor of secondary education at San Francisco State University, observed in a Washington Post blog post, "In a society in which prominent politicians dismiss science and mess up their historical facts, it makes perfect sense to turn school decision-making over to parent groups who know little about education."

Parents should be more involved in education matters. And high-performing charter schools can be a good ingredient in the school-choice stew.

But reforming schools through a parental trigger seems likely to backfire.,0,1021436.story

Pratt Dannals disingenuous response to devastating school rankings

Below is his response to the school rankings that came out today. In case you haven’t seen them 8 of our high schools are in the bottom 25 (out of 404) of the state.

We recognize that the results of our lower performing high schools needed to improve and have implemented strategies to improve both the FCAT scores as well as the newer grading criteria and are seeing positive progress. Having two of our high schools in the top 12 is impressive. Our expansion of the acceleration programs and career academies is designed to replicate the successes we are seeing at Stanton and Paxon, requiring rigorous coursework, high graduation requirements and post-secondary readiness. Duval County has the most rigorous graduation requirements in the state. The percentage of graduates completing a college prep curriculum in Duval County in 2010 was 82.9% compared to the state at 60.2%. *

The two high schools in the top 12 are Paxon and Stanton, magnet schools for our top kids and remember when Stanton and Paxon were number five and twelve in the nation? Now they are that way in just the sate.

There is also a difference between rigorous and advanced. Rigor has been destroyed by grade recovery and the districts gentlemen’s C policy, where we pass kids along whether they have the skills they need or not.

Finally ask Florida State College at Jacksonville where 70% of our graduates have to take remedial classes how well our college prep curriculum is doing.

How does this guy still have a job?

8 of Jacksonville’s high schools in the bottom 25 (out of 404)

8 of Jacksonville’s high schools in the bottom 25 (out of 404)

I don’t think it is fair to compare Duval to St. Johns or Cay or other neighboring districts. Quite frankly our district is both a lot bigger and a lot poorer.

But what about comparing our district to Miami Dade. They have three times as many kids and an even higher percentage of students receiving fee and reduced lunch. In last weeks rankings of districts they were 37th and we were 50th! We have eight high schools in the bottom 25 and they have five and nearly three times as many high schools too.

Look I am sure Miami Dade has issues, but many of them are the same as ours and they are doing a much better job handling them.

The problem here is our leadership. Since Pratt-Dannals became superintendent, rigor has been gutted, discipline has been gutter and he has greatly contributed to teacher morale being gutted. His constant all is well message is both wrong and does the city a disservice by giving it a false sense of security.

It’s time we thanked him for his service, gave him a gold plated watch and had him hit the road.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Jacksonville’s high schools rank at the bottom of the state

There are 404 high schools on the list

Andrew Jackson- 404



Englewood and Ribault tied for -391

Ed White tied for -386

Wolfson -385

First Coast -381

Terry Parker -325

To see the complete list click on this blog’s title or cut and paste below into your browser.

Russel Skiba of the equity project doesn’t get it about suspensions

“Schools that use out-of-school suspensions a lot tend to have higher dropout rates … have lower test scores on state accountability tests and get lower ratings from parents and teachers,” said Russell Skiba, director of the Equity Project, in a Times Union article about discipline.

Where the first three reasons might be valid statistics I would greatly dispute teachers have a problem with suspending misbehaving kids. Teachers all over the nation pray little Johnnies don’t show up so they can teach and their other kids can learn.

The big problem however with Skiba’s argument is causality. Do suspensions cause lower test scores and drop outs or would many of these kids drop out and do poorly on tests anyways?

I contend that kids that are frequently suspended probably aren’t in school because they want to be and likewise wouldn’t do well on standardized tests if forced to be there.

Courts charge kids younger and younger as adults, it’s time schools followed suit. If a sixteen year old doesn’t want to be in school it’s time we showed them the door. The benefits of doing so may just outweigh the benefits if any of keeping them. Check out the post below for reasons we should permanently suspend some kids.

Duval County doesn’t understand what suspensions are for

It used to be you suspended a kid when they got home they could expect the back of a hand from their parent and a room with maybe a book. It meant something. Now that many parents are abdicating their responsibilities suspension is little more than vacation to some kids but that doesn’t mean they are any less important.

It was a punishment and it gave parents and opportunity to be parents.

Now often when kids are suspended it’s not so they can learn a lesson, it so the other kids in their class can just learn in general. So many teachers and students have to endure toxic leaning environments because the district refuses to do something about discipline.

You want test grades and college readiness to improve? Tackle that problem first.

Suspensions aren’t for the kid being suspended, they are so the other kids can feel safe and learn. Those are the kids the system should be concerned about, not the thugs and malcontents that roam the halls of our schools.

According to Betty Burney Duval County Schools say one thing and does another

I agree with her too.

This became more evident in an article about discipline in the Times Union.

Betty Burney was quoted as saying, Some School Board members have publicly questioned whether there is pressure to under-report student misconduct.

“I heard from a few principals in the past that they can’t be seen on their report card as having an uptick in discipline violations,” board Chairwoman Betty Burney said. “The superintendent should simply go out and make a formal statement to all principals that is not the district’s expectation.”

District officials insist they’ve never told teachers or principals not to write up or not to suspend students for misconduct.

I don’t think the district formally tell principals that either, but the key word is formally.

No they say things like, promotions may not come through, evaluations may suffer and jobs might be lost

This is what administrators tell teachers any way.

Terrie Brady points out the superintendent doesn’t know what’s happening in Jax’s schools

Terrie Brady head of the DTU thinks the superintendent doesn’t know what’s happening in our schools a charge Education Matters has long made about the school board. In a recent article in the Times Union about discipline the superintendent was quoted saying: … teachers who complain (about discipline being unreported) are disgruntled employees who don’t represent the majority of the district’s 8,500 teachers.

Mrs. Brady disagreed and said: “I believe student misconduct is being
under-reported, but it’s not because of orders from the top of the district,” Brady said. “I believe it’s being under-reported because some administrators believe it makes them look weak, that it will work against them in the formula on school grades, and I think that some might feel pressured from mid-level administrators.”

Here is a simple way to find out who is right and who is wrong. Ask a teacher, there are 8500 of them in Jacksonville, what they think about discipline in our public schools. They will probably be more willing to talk to you than the media because many fear repercussions if they make their feelings public and that alone should speak volumes.

Rick Scott just doesn't get it


by Jeff Bergosh

Recently, a succinct 1-67 ranking of all school districts in Florida was released by the Florida Department of Education. These rankings were based upon a series of calculations directly tied to the administration of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in each county.

Some districts, like St. Johns (south of Jacksonville) and Santa Rosa (ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively) have much to be proud of. Hats off to them for the great work they are doing.

For districts like Escambia (ranked 44th), the data are much less palatable. Are we to assume that because districts like Santa Rosa and St. Johns are ranked so highly that they are exponentially better at learning-delivery than their lower-ranked peers like Escambia? (Caution, humor ahead): I actually think that if Escambia swapped teachers with Santa Rosa and kept everything else equal, Santa Rosa would be holding the No. 1 slot!

OK, maybe that's a bit over the top, and was of course stated in jest, but according to the press portrayals of this FDOE data, one could easily reason that the higher the district ranking, the better the school district, period.

And therein lies the problem.

The release of data like this without thoughtfully conceived disclaimers, explanations and footnotes can and does lead to incorrect and negative public perceptions. This is because data alone does not tell the whole story. And Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson's five-second blurb about poverty being a factor, during his two-minute introduction of the data, does not cut it as a disclaimer. (I doubt anyone but me watched that video.)

Complex data should be carefully developed and the "press release" of such data requires thoughtful deployment if accuracy is valued. Apples should be compared to apples.

A striking yet very apt analogy is the community crime statistics released yearly by the FBI. When statistics about murders, assaults, forcible rapes and other vicious crimes are released annually, these data are put into tables and organized by events per 100,000 citizens of a particular community.

For example, utilizing 2010 data, the murder/non-negligent manslaughter rate in New Orleans (pop. 356,000) was roughly 50 times higher than it was in either El Paso, Texas (pop. 624,000) or Lincoln, Neb. (pop. 260,000). Does this mean police departments in El Paso and Lincoln are way better than the cops in New Orleans? Of course not.

This is why the FBI takes great care in providing a carefully worded disclaimer on its website along with the yearly crime statistics. Community issues, poverty, demographics and a myriad of other social ills affect crime rates — and educational outcomes.

So I propose that the next time the FDOE wants to release rankings, perhaps it should consider utilizing the following disclaimer (taken directly from the FBI website, with "school district" substituted for "law enforcement," and "educational failure" substituted for "crime"):

"Individuals using these tabulations are cautioned against drawing conclusions by making direct comparisons between cities. Comparisons lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local school district jurisdiction. It is important to remember that educational failure is a social problem and, therefore, a concern of the entire community. The efforts of a school district are limited to factors within its control. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual agencies."

Jeff Bergosh represents District 1 on the Escambia County School Board.

The corporate war on public schools picks up steam

Though National School Choice Week has some liberal support, its primary backers are deeply conservative activists whose goal is to dissolve public education in the US.

To read the whole article click on this blog's title or paste the address below into your browser.

Districts will be forced to build and maintain charter schools if the legislature has its way.

By Kathleen McGrory

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE -- While education isn’t likely to take center stage in Tallahassee this year, one message is clear: Florida lawmakers want to continue growing charter schools.

Proposals are poised to help the state’s charter school movement in a big way.

One would require local school districts to share their construction and maintenance dollars with their charter schools.

“The legislation you are seeing is a reflection of some of the core values and beliefs we have,” said Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, vice chair of the House Education Committee. “Any time you have choice, it encourages everyone to excel.”

There is, however, pushback from the other side of the aisle.

Some Democrats want the Legislature to slow down when it comes to charter school growth — and to hold charter schools more accountable. To that end, two South Florida lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that would require charter schools to disclose more information about their finances on their websites.

The bills were filed after a Miami Herald investigation found that the charter school movement has given rise to a cottage industry of for-profit management companies, some of which have almost total control over the charter schools they run.

Charter schools are funded by tax dollars, but run by independent governing boards. Some are managed by for-profit companies.

Enrollment in charter schools now tops 175,000 students statewide, accounting for one out of every 16 children in Florida’s public schools. The results have been mixed. On average, charter school students and their counterparts in traditional public schools post comparable scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests.

Last year, state lawmakers made it easier for high-performing charter schools to replicate and increase their enrollment.

This year, the focus is funding.

Charter schools receive less state money than traditional public schools – partly because traditional public schools have the power to levy taxes to support maintenance and construction projects.

A proposal currently under consideration would require school districts to share some of those capital dollars with charter schools based on student enrollment numbers.

“Our public resources should be fairly and equitably distributed among all public schools,” said Adkins, who is sponsoring the bill in the House.

Cheri Shannon, president of the Florida Charter School Alliance, said equal funding has long been a priority for charter school advocates.

“Why should one child’s education be worth less because that child is in a charter school?” she said.

But opponents of the bill say tax dollars shouldn’t support charter school facilities, which are often privately owned and not a public asset.

What’s more, school district officials say that revenue is needed to pay down the debt on existing schoolhouses.

“The capital outlay dollars are needed in the public schools,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who is also Chief Executive Officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

Read more here:

High stakes tests, bad or really bad

From the Washington Post's Answer Sheet

By Larry Cuban

Test scores are the coin of the educational realm in the United States. No Child Left Behind demands that scores be used to reward and punish districts, schools, and teachers for how well or poorly students score on state tests. In pursuit of federal dollars, the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition has shoved state after state into legislating that teacher evaluations include student test scores as part of judging teacher effectiveness.

Numbers glued to high stakes consequences, however, corrupt performance. Since the mid-1970s, social scientists have documented the untoward results of attaching high stakes to quantitative indicators not only for education but also across numerous institutions. They have pointed out that those who implement policies using specific quantitative measures will change their practices to insure better numbers.

The work of social scientist Donald T. Campbell and others about the perverse outcomes of incentives was available and known to many but went ignored. In “ Assessing the Impact of Planned Social Change ,” Campbell wrote:

“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor” (p. 49).

Campbell drew instances of distorted behavior when police officials used clearance rates in solving crimes, the Soviet Union set numerical goals for farming and industry, and when the U.S. military used “body counts” in Vietnam as evidence of winning the war.

That was 40-50 years ago. In the past decade, medical researchers have found similar patterns when health insurers and Medicare have used quantitative indicators to measure physician performance. For example, Medicare requires — as a quality measure — that doctors administer antibiotics to a pneumonia patient within six hours of arriving at the hospital.

As one physician said: “The trouble is that doctors often cannot diagnose pneumonia that quickly. You have to talk to and examine the patient and wait for blood tests, chest X-rays and so on.” So what happens is that “more and more antibiotics are being used in emergency rooms today, despite all-too-evident dangers like antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antibiotic-associated infections.”

He and other doctors also know that surgeons have been known to pick reasonably healthy patients for heart bypass operations and ignore elderly ones who have 3-5 chronic ailments to insure that results look good.

Here are some more examples:

TV stations charge for advertising on the basis of how many viewers they have during “sweep” months (November, February, May, and July). Nielsen company has boxes in 2 million homes (representative of the nation’s viewership) that register whether the TV is on and what families are watching during those months. They also have viewers fill out diaries. Nielsen assumes that what the station shows in those months represents programming for the entire year (see 2011-2012-Sweeps-Dates). Nope. What do TV networks and cable companies do during those “sweeps?” They program new shows, films, extravaganzas, and sports that will draw viewers so they can charge higher advertising rates. They game the system and corrupt the measure (see p. 80).

And, ripped from the headlines of the daily paper, online vendors secretly ask purchasers of their products to write reviews and rate it with five stars in exchange for a kickback of the price the customer paid. Another corrupted measure.

Of course, educational researchers also have documented the link between standardized test scores and narrowed instruction to prepare students for test items, instances of state policymakers fiddling with cut-off scores on tests, increased dropouts, and straight out cheating by a few administrators. (see Dan Koretz, “Measuring Up ”)

What Donald Campbell had said in 1976 about “highly corruptible indicators” applies not only in education but also to many different institutions.

So why do good policy makers use bad indicators?* The answer is that numbers are highly prized in the culture because they are easy to grasp and use in making decisions.The simpler the number — wins/losses, products sold, profits made, test scores — the easier to judge worth. When numbers have high stakes attached to them, they then become incentives (either as a carrot or a stick) to make the numbers look good. And that is where indicators turn bad as sour milk whose expiration date has long passed.

The best policymakers, not merely good ones, know that multiple measures for a worthy goal reduce the possibility of reporting false performance.

See: *Steven Glazerman and Liz Potamites, False Performance Gains: A Critique of Successive Cohort Indicators,” Working Paper, Mathematica Policy Research, December 2011, p. 13

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jacksonville Teacher Disagrees with the Superintendent on Discipline

Dear Ms. Stepzinski,

I read today's Times-Union article ( about discipline in Duval County's public schools and I believe that you have overlooked an important component or two that I would have gladly shared with you.

The difference between a merited and frivolous disciplinary referral is whether the teacher has made a good faith effort to contact the parent or guardian. The discipline committee and the shared governance committee at my school have specifically asked that parents be included when the teacher is taking disciplinary action regarding a student's behavior. This means that the teacher should use at least three interventions (Including at least one parent contact) to make a good faith effort at correcting the child's behavior before going up the chain of command - excluding, of course, egregious violations of the Code of Conduct that warrant immediate action (Class II, III violations, etc.). I agree that teachers cannot and should not simply send a student to the dean's office for less than valid reasons or for reasons that fail to include reasonable interventions.

What are these interventions? The first intervention is a verbal warning that the teacher uses to redirect the student to comply with the Code of Conduct. The second intervention may be for the teacher to send the student to time out in another classroom. The third intervention may be to either call the student's parent/guardian or to send a note home. These are just examples, but a teacher's documenting these previous interventions helps to identify a pattern of behavior that justifies writing the disciplinary referral. As a matter of fact, teachers at my school are advised to document the previous interventions on the disciplinary referral in order for it to be processed. These documented interventions are useful as they give the student a chance to improve his/her behavior and it communicates to the parent/guardian that the teacher is attempting to correct student behavior that involves constructive communication with the family. It can be overwhelming for all involved for a teacher to write a disciplinary referral on the spot because it gives the administration the impression that the teacher has no other classroom management tools and gives the parents the impression that the teacher is not even trying to help the student change his/her behavior.

That said, it is true that there is pressure on administrators and teachers to limit the number of disciplinary referrals. Everything from the school's overall grade to the principal's evaluation are riding on how a school handles those students who are not abiding by the Code of Conduct. In my opinion, this is a game of smoke and mirrors that ultimately harms those students who truly want to learn and see that precious class time is being wasted on having to deal with students who have little to no interest in their own education. Is it any wonder that so many parents are choosing to send their children to private or charter schools? They should not have to send their children to a school where they are not secure in knowing that their child's education will not be interfered with by those students who fervently reject education.

As for the 'disgruntled' former teachers, what does the superintendent expect? I do not know of any teachers who are currently employed who would want to go on the record and make comments about the relatively lax discipline in their schools. Our profession is very political and I do not think that anyone wants to open themselves to retaliation from either downtown or their own principals for speaking truth to power. Hence, it is easy to dismiss critics as being bitter ex-employees with an ax to grind. It is an excellent red herring that enables us to ignore their grievances because they are obviously out to embarrass the superintendent - right?

Well, I am not a former employee as I am still teaching school and I believe that our teachers do deserve more support from downtown and our administrators. Studies show that the average teacher spends ten percent of class time on having to deal with students who fail or refuse to comply with the Code of Conduct. This amounts to a total of 18 days wasted on handling such issues. If we are to improve our school grades, we need to work to improve the educational situation without having to paper over our disciplinary deficiencies for the sake of keeping up appearances.

Furthermore, when we handle serious behavior issues with kid gloves, we are doing no real service to these students. They end up with a sense of entitlement that allows them to feel that they can flout authority in the 'real world.' The criminal justice system is already clogged up with criminals who believe that they are above the law. Wait until this generation of children grows up and decides to break the law because they expect leniency that absolves them from facing any consequences.

I am fairly passionate about this issue because I have seen excellent teachers leave the profession because they are rightfully 'disgruntled' by how our school district and our administrators are mishandling this issue. They, while no longer with the system, deserve to be heard as they and many currently employed teachers deserve to have a say in making our school system better.



John Louis Meeks, Jr.


For profit charter schools want more money from tax payers

From the Miami Herald

By Kathleen McGrory, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE -- While education isn’t likely to take center stage in Tallahassee this year, one message is clear: Florida lawmakers want to continue growing charter schools.

At least two proposals are poised to help the state’s charter school movement in a big way.

One would require local school districts to share their construction and maintenance dollars with their charter schools. Another would allow charters to offer programming for parents.

“The legislation you are seeing is a reflection of some of the core values and beliefs we have,” said Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, vice chair of the House Education Committee. “Any time you have choice, it encourages everyone to excel.”

There is, however, pushback from the other side of the aisle.

Some Democrats want the Legislature to slow down when it comes to charter school growth — and to hold charter schools more accountable. To that end, two South Florida lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that would require charter schools to disclose more information about their finances on their websites.

The bills were filed after a Miami Herald investigation found that the charter school movement has given rise to a cottage industry of for-profit management companies, some of which have almost total control over the charter schools they run.

Charter schools are funded by tax dollars, but run by independent governing boards. Some are managed by for-profit companies.

Enrollment in charter schools now tops 175,000 students statewide, accounting for one out of every 16 children in Florida’s public schools. The results have been mixed. On average, charter school students and their counterparts in traditional public schools post comparable scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests.

Last year, state lawmakers made it easier for high-performing charter schools to replicate and increase their enrollment.

This year, the focus is funding.

Charter schools receive less state money than traditional public schools – partly because traditional public schools have the power to levy taxes to support maintenance and construction projects.

A proposal currently under consideration would require school districts to share some of those capital dollars with charter schools based on student enrollment numbers.

“Our public resources should be fairly and equitably distributed among all public schools,” said Adkins, who is sponsoring the bill in the House.

Cheri Shannon, president of the Florida Charter School Alliance, said equal funding has long been a priority for charter school advocates.

“Why should one child’s education be worth less because that child is in a charter school?” she said.

But opponents of the bill say tax dollars shouldn’t support charter school facilities, which are often privately owned and not a public asset.

What’s more, school district officials say that revenue is needed to pay down the debt on existing schoolhouses.

“The capital outlay dollars are needed in the public schools,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who is also Chief Executive Officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

Another charter school initiative – this one sponsored by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs – would allow charter school operators to establish “family charter academies” where parents could take adult education classes.

“Many charter school parents believe in education – so much so that they themselves want to stay at the schools and take classes,” Simmons said. “This would make charter schools like a one-stop shop.”

Simmons envisions parents taking vocational, language and lifelong learning classes, he said.

But whether the charter schools would be eligible for the state dollars that fund adult education programs remains to be seen. “That would be the next step,” Simmons said.

Shannon, of the Florida Charter School Alliance, said the bill “would make good use of the school buildings.”

The state teachers’ union sees its differently.

“These bills are taking money away from traditional schools and giving them to charter schools that have no accountability,” Florida Education President Andy Ford said. “And we as taxpayers don’t even know if charter schools are a good investment.”

Ford said lawmakers should instead be focusing on providing adequate funding for traditional public schools so they can provide a broader array of class offerings and services for children.

Not every charter school bill is aimed at expansion.

Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, and Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami Beach, have legislation that would require charter schools to post information about their management companies prominently on their websites. Charter school operators would have to disclose if they are managed by for-profit companies, and if so, how much they pay in fees. They would also have to report the management company’s management and administrative personnel.

“People are now profiting from charter schools,” Bullard said. “That was not the intent of the law.”

Kathleen McGrory can be reached at

Read more here:

Duval County creates criminals by ignoring discipline

My friend leaned forward to better hear what the administrator was saying. At first he wasn’t sure because he couldn’t imagine a school administrator saying anything close to what he thought he had just heard.

If you want to make merit pay, the first thing we look at is referrals, if you have written a lot of referrals you will not get merit pay. Also If you think you are on the bubble of being retained or being surplused the first thing we look at is referrals, if you have written a lot you may have room for concern. Not even with a wink and a nod here was this leader of teachers telling her staff not to write referrals that to do so could cost them both money and or their jobs.

Sometimes a lot of referrals can be indicative of poor classroom management other times however it can be indicative of poor classes. If a kid doesn’t respond to my teacher voice or look, doesn’t care if I call home, can get on the computer or where they sit. If a kid doesn’t care about school then there is no other option but tot send them out on a referral that way I can teach and other kids can learn. But what do I do now that money and my job are on the line. Well some teachers scared for their futures will endure toxic leaning environments in their classrooms and that leads to a whole host of other problems.

Duval County doesn’t get it. When we fail to discipline, the problems don’t miraculously go away. On the contrary they get worse and they create other problems as well.

This year the Duval County school system will create doctors and lawyers, teachers and business men, they will create engineers, scientists, and accountants too but sadly they will also create more than their fair share of criminals and bad citizens as well. And they will do it at the same schools that your sons and daughters, your nieces or nephews or your neighbor’s kids go to.

If you want evidence think about my friend who was pistol whipped last January during a robbery or my neighbor who was recently gang raped in broad day light on the street or the residents of 45th street and Moncrief who were terrorized for over a year by a gang of street punks. Of the thirteen young men arrested for crimes ranging from homicide to drug possession four are still teenagers. Over the summer a half dozen young men all under the age of 18 were convicted of murder one case involved a pizza another three dollars

If you want further evidence just walk through the halls between classes at most neighborhood schools there is little fear of or respect for authority.

I can point them out to you, the second year freshmen with six F’s and one D on their latest report card. The junior who doesn’t bring any materials to class and tells me he can’t write with a pen only a pencil when I offer him a pen. The multitude of students who have massed dozens of tardies in my class with no penalty, or seem both outraged and confused when I announce to them that we have work to do, something we do even on Fridays. You can also see the girl that hijacks my forth period class every day, yelling at me telling me no, even when I ask the most reasonable of requests like please take your seat and quietly do your work. I could go on and on.

For the most part day after day I let it go. You see I have to pick my battles. If I fight everything then I am considered the problem and my classroom management skills are questioned, or if I write up to many black students it’s whispered that I might be a racist. These are things that as a teacher you don’t want to be thought of as.

In my class students get several opportunities to be disrespectful to me or to refuse my reasonable requests, instead of just the one they should, before I send them out. When I do some students question my logic, they tell me nothing’s going to happen to them and that I will be the one that gets in trouble, though when they say it, expletive deletes usually accompany their words.

Sometimes they are back in a few minutes with cat eating grins on their faces because they were just asked not to do it again, though administrators call it counseling. Other times they receive the most minor of inconveniences, I say inconveniences because for something to be a consequence it has to be meaningful. That’s if even that happens.

A colleague of mine recently stumbled across boxes of unprocessed referrals from last year. I suspect they weren’t processed because referrals affect a schools grade, the only alternative I could think of is the administration is either lazy and doesn’t care or they were directed to ignore the referrals by higher ups. Who cares if children are taught its okay to be defiant, disruptive and disrespectful, which is what happens if they receive no consequences for their actions as long as the school grade improves.

Above isn’t exclusive to my class or school by any means, it happens all across the county and at every grade too. First graders threatening teachers, fifth graders caught having sex, middle schoolers assaulting school board employees and wore are all nearly daily occurrences here in Duval County. A few here and there are removed but most are sent back to their classes with no real consequences where quite often their behavior worsens. A student attacking a teacher and scratching their cornea gets a one dy suspension in at least one county school. Looking up a teachers adress on google maps so they can come visit them later gets a period of in school suspension at another.

When we ignore bad behavior or don’t deliver a real consequence for it, it invariably worsens and why wouldn’t it. I am not a bring swats back to school kind of guy, but what about having children work all day Saturday or after school. Why can’t schools mandate community service hours like the legal system can, and then have the police pick them up to make sure they do it. What do you think happens to children who receive no consequences, well I will tell you, they grow up to be adults who think they can do whatever they want and are easily angered when they can’t. They join gangs, they commit crimes and they are not the person you want sitting next to you at work.

Involved parents of good children don’t think this doesn’t apply to you or your family. What does your child think we he sees no consequences given to the disruptive student, do they think they are cool; do they mimic their behavior or fall into that crowd? Do we want to even take the chance that they might. Furthermore even if they don’t, if a teacher spends just ten percent of his or her time dealing with the unruly student, then your student is missing 18 days worth of instruction. I know teachers who say they spend up to fifty percent of their time working with the students who are discipline problems or don't care. If your child is in one of those classes, do you know how much instruction they are missing? Also what about the child thaat just needs that consequence one time to straighten out, to see the light. Whats going to happen to them if they never get it.

I know what you are thinking and you are right, of course it’s the parents of disruptive children’s responsibility, and yes it is their job to keep these children in line, to raise them right. The thing is, if we know some parents are abdicating their responsibilities, and it is painfully obvious that more than a few are, then isn’t it up to us, society, and the school system to step up and do something because if not us then who. Isn’t it time we stopped just hoping they did the right thing and did the right thing ourselves, regardless of effort or cost.

And the cost being prohibitive is another tired argument, because make no mistake we are already paying for it. Its’ not pay now or pay later, it’s we are already paying now and we are going to have to pay a lot more later. Think about it, we are already paying for it through higher insurance rates, crime and more police on the streets; we are footing the bill with violence and blood. How much is it worth for your daughter not to be raped or your son not to be murdered, or are you just content hoping it doesn’t happen to them, you or somebody else you know or love.

How many of those kids in the 45th street gang did schools make by ignoring their behavior or by giving them no real consequence for it. How many mothers are saying he was such a good boy until he got mixed up in the wrong crowd? How many could we have saved had we done something, my bet is more than a few.

Please don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good kids here in Duval County the vast majority in fact want nothing more but to come to school and learn. but there are kids that the schools need to look out for, because if they don’t then society will have too.
at Sunday, September 05, 2010

Is the superintendet lying about discipline? Ask a teacher what they think

Leave some behind

I and nine thousand of my fellow teachers roll up our sleeves and go to work every day work, sometimes excited for what the new day will bring and other times pessimistic that it will be more of the same.

When I first became a teacher nine years ago, after a decade working in special needs camps, I thought I was going to change the world, that every student who came threw my classroom would leave not only educated but a better human being as well. However the sad fact is some of my students weren't just learning they were teaching to, and what they taught me was, you can't save them all.

Way to many students come to school with no pretense of learning, they come to be with their friends, they come because society tells them they have to and more than a few come to see what trouble they can find and these few bad apples are spoiling the whole bunch. You hear it everyday, in the offices and teachers lounges of schools, if only Johnny wasn't in my classroom I could teach. If only little Suzy would stop disturbing class the other kids could learn, I had a good day today because so and so was absent, I felt like a teacher. If that one bad apple was gone the whole class could thrive.

Every year you see the same students in the hall after the tardy bell rings, they aren't carrying books and they aren't in a hurry to get anywhere; then when you ask them where they are supposed to be, they inform you often with the word fuck added in somewhere, that it's none of your business, well I say enough is enough because if not now, if not this year then when? It's time we took back from our school system from those unruly few that have hijacked it.

If you don't believe me, try this parents wait a week or two after school begins and then go ahead and ask your little Suzy and/or your little Johnny, if there is a student or two in their class that the teacher always has to discipline, and then ask them if the same student picks on their classmates or does their work, if you don't already know, I believe you will be unpleasantly surprised.

And now parents let me ask you a couple of questions, at your place of employment are you routinely threatened and harassed, and what would you do if you were, and your bosses did nothing about it, would you show up the next day? Also do you think this would be a good way to run a business; well sadly that's how some of our schools are run, and it's one of the reasons that our school system is suffering.

Did you know over half of the districts teachers have five years experience teaching or less and two of the things that make teachers leave the field so quickly are unruly students and lack of support from our administration when it comes to discipline. Teachers for the most part only write students up as a last resort when every other option has failed, but there is nothing more defeating than to see this same student returned to our classrooms a few moments later with no consequences, now something may have happened but for a consequence to be effective it must be meaningful, and what we do to the kids is not meaningful. To make matters worse often we receive visits from our administration wondering why we have written the same student up several times, instead of supporting us they question our teaching methods when the blaring reason we have done this is they haven't done anything.

Furthermore what type of message does this send to the child, well I'll tell you, that's they can do whatever they want whenever they want to and they can then expect no real punishment. I often wonder how many times these criminals we read about in the news or see on television were in trouble while they were in school or what punishments they received, I would bet the answers would be often and little.

One of the reasons discipline is so bad is it's nearly impossible to remove a student to an alternative school unless they are caught with a gun or physically assault a teacher, no matter how often they are in trouble. The thing is by letting them stay with just the meekest of consequences after they misbehave over and over is just courting tragedy. Do we need a student to be shot or a teacher to be beat up before we do anything? Instead of being reactive it's time our school system stepped up and was proactive. If you get in two fights in a year you should be gone. If you get written up five times in nine weeks you should be gone. If you miss more than nine days in nine weeks without a doctor's note you should be gone, if you are late fifteen times in nine weeks you should be gone, if you get arrested while not at school for violence, stealing or drugs you should be gone, and if you threaten a teacher or school board employee once, and just once is all it should take, you should be gone.

I and many of my colleagues are tired of ignoring bad behavior because we figure nothing will be done. We are tired of being looked at in an accusatory matter when we attempt to impose discipline. We are tired of not being backed up and seeing the same student returned to our classrooms with no consequences, but most of all we are tired of not being able to teach.

You see we spend so much of our time on the five percent of students who create ninety-five percent of the problems, we have lost focus on those students who want to be there and want to learn, and sadly many of these students are falling through the cracks, because they aren't getting the services and attention they deserve.

These disruptive students are a cancer to our school system, and when a body has a cancer we don't say, it didn't mean it, lets give it a chance, then another chance and another, we don't ask if we think it's being serious, no what we do is cut it out, and we do so because that's the only way we can save the body, and it may be the only way we can save our school system to.

Mr. Superintendent I call on you to get your teachers back, to make sure we have a safe working environment and to reinstall discipline into our schools. You want f-cat scores to go up, you want student achievement to improve lets try that. No child left behind should be changed to; we're leaving about five percent of them behind until they shape up. By doing so we can help make sure the ninety-five percent of students who want to learn, who want to achieve can be as successful as possible.

Suspension centers, an experiment that has failed

Suspension centers, a noble experiment that should be put to bed
Being suspended is supposed to be a punishment, have we forgotten that,
has our touchy feely, politically correct society gotten to that point? If done correctly suspensions can have several positive outcomes. If disruptive children are sent home for a few days it gives the other students an opportunity to have a positive learning environment and teachers an opportunity to teach. The teachers lament is, if little Johnny or little Suzy wasn’t here I could teach, most students that get suspended are little Johnnies and little Suzies. Bottom line, the suspension of an unruly child often gives other students a chance to learn and teachers a chance to teach.

More importantly however is a child’s suspension gives a parent an opportunity to act like one. I knew if I was ever suspended from school there were far worse punishments than that waiting for me at home. Too many parents have abdicated their responsibilities or left it to the schools to discipline their children, well society isn’t supposed to work like that, parents are supposed to teach children how to behave and schools are just supposed to teach.

If instead of sending them home all we are going to do is send them to a suspension center which sounds like a glorified coddling center to me what’s the point in suspending them in the first place? Where is the punishment? If schools are to become the discipline tool of the family let’s not play around and let’s do it right. If we don’t it’s only all of society hangs in the balance and if you think I am exaggerating or using grandiose terms for effect, just read the crime report or law and disorder sections of any paper.

Discipline has become a huge problem in many of our schools as evident by another teachers lament and that’s the inmates are running the asylum. When we don’t give children consequences for their actions, and remember for a consequence to be effective it must have meaning, we are in danger of creating more problems down the line. Violent, disruptive and disrespectful children often become violent, disruptive and disrespectful adults. When a student gets to the point they need to be suspended it rarely is the first problem the school had had with the child. Furthermore many students who are suspended are often the recipients of multiple suspensions, this is because suspensions aren’t consequences to them and now inexplicably we are watering down suspensions further with suspension centers.

I personally don’t expect the suspended student to learn anything from not being in school, all I expect is now I will have a few days of peace where I can make sure my other students do.

Instead of going to a voluntary suspension center for a few days something that will unlikely make a difference, why not send the repeat offending child to an alternative school for nine weeks. A school where there is no P.E. or art, no talking in the halls or in the cafeteria, for every day you miss a day is added on and for every bad day you get an extra week. We can have character education and social workers there and then they can get those services for more than an easily forgettable few days. Then let’s make the parents responsible for getting them there and hold them accountable when they don’t. Why not do something that will matter, that has teeth, that will make a difference, because if we’re not going to do that then what is the point, and friends what we are currently doing isn’t worth of a hill of beans to far too many.

If students know going to an alternative center is a real possibility how do you think this will affect their decision making process? Furthermore as I stated above, students who are suspended are often those students who are repeatedly in trouble, after nine weeks away from their friends in a very restrictive environment how much repeat behavior do you think they will have? I’ll tell you how much affect a three day suspension has on many of them, it’s none.

To be honest though I don’t think it should stop there. Once you turn fifteen if you get in two fights in a year thanks for coming but instead of taking the risk you might assault someone else you can go home and be your parent’s problems for a year. Threaten or hit a teacher welcome to the alternative school for the rest of your academic career. Get caught at school with drugs (I recently had an 18 year old student return after just three weeks) feel free to reapply next year.

I don’t particularly like the idea of having these students on the street, but to be honest keeping them in the schools scares the heck out of me and has a detrimental effect on the other students. If a kid comes to hang out with his friends or to see what trouble they can find, it’s time to tell them they are no longer wanted because keeping them takes resources away from the kids that want to be there that have an opportunity to do well. In other words a few bad apples are threatening to spoil all the apples in the cart.

Ask your son or daughter if they know any students who are always in trouble or who never do their work, I bet many of them will know a handful. If a teacher has to constantly deal with disruptive children then that’s time taken away from your child. I hope your child just doesn’t need that little bit extra to be successful.

We have to wake up, by coddling these children, by not giving them real consequences for their actions, by sending them to suspension centers, which are voluntary by the way, we are courting more tragedies. I say more because we already have tragedies in our streets daily. Young people are committing and being the victim of crimes at a terrifying rate and it’s just a matter of time before this violence invades our schools more than it already has. Do we need a student or a teacher to be gunned down in the halls before we stand up and demand something meaningful be done.
In the last few weeks at my school there have been several vicious assaults that probably wouldn’t have taken place if the perpetrators would have received real consequences for past behavior. I say again we are courting tragedy, I just hope it’s not me or one of my peers, or your son or daughter that it happens to.

Suspension centers are those ideas that sound good in a vacuum, that are created by far off academics or people brainstorming around coffee and doughnuts, not by the teachers and administrators in the schools on the front lines, and I mean front lines because with some of these students it’s like going to battle daily. Suspension centers are like putting Band-Aids on bullet wounds which we will have in our halls and our classrooms if we don’t start doing something.

A lack of discipline hurts our schools

I have ben writing about this for years. No child left behind should be, we are leaving about ten percent of them behind until they straighten up. -cpg

From an Urban Teachers Blog

How My School and District Failed its Students

The following is by Frank Beard, a graduate of Drake University and a former Teach For America corps member (Kansas City ’08). He taught middle school science, social studies, and communication arts in the Kansas City, Missouri School District.

A large number of this country’s schools are failing its students—but not in the way that many columnists, education reformers, or school experts would have you believe.

From 2008 to 2010, I taught at the middle school level in Kansas City as a Teach For America corps member. But don’t worry, I’m not going rehash Freedom Writers, and I certainly won’t tell one of those sappy “this is why I Teach For America” stories.

Instead, I want to offer some very candid thoughts about why I think my district and school were such abysmal failures.

When people ask me what I believe was the number one barrier to student achievement at my school, I always offer the same answer: the failure of the school and district to address chronically disruptive students. It was a problem created by negligent leaders who willingly allowed a free-for-all environment that was conducive to chaos instead of learning.

I’ll never forget the first day of staff development my second year. During the “welcome back” talk, my principal handed out a sheet which detailed the number of discipline referrals submitted by each teacher the previous year. We were informed that it is wrong to submit a lot of them because discipline is a classroom-management issue and therefore must be addressed within the classroom. Sending students to the office, she said, is simply not acceptable or allowed.

I didn’t think much of that at first. After all, I had just come from an amazing summer school experience in which I had supportive principals, a fantastic assistant principal who liked to hang out in my classroom, and students who were simply a joy to be around. Even though many of my students had received no science instruction at their regular schools (that time was used for extra reading and math test preparation), they were veritable experts on the scientific method at the end of our six weeks. I was continually impressed with their hard work and desire to learn.

Coming from that experience, I ignored my fellow teachers’ warnings that the new year was going to be complete and total chaos. I also ignored the fact that losing our vice principal—who tried his best to be an effective disciplinarian—was sure to affect the school’s climate. Instead, I was excited and ready to teach. The other middle school teachers and I collaborated and developed a student handbook in which we standardized all of our rules, expectations, grading practices, behavior management systems, and other relevant policies and procedures. We were a united front, and our students were going to have a successful year.

Or so I thought.

Everything was great for the first three weeks, but then a few students began testing the limits of what was acceptable behavior. It’s one thing when a student throws a paper ball at his friend, or when someone utters a rude comment. It’s quite another thing when a student tells you that she’ll “crack” your “bitch ass” or demands that you “get the fuck out of [her] face”. Unfortunately, as the students soon discovered, our principal offered no support whatsoever. Nearly ever discipline referral sent to the office was returned with a polite reminder to please contact the students’ parents. Clear and consistent consequences simply did not exist—even though they were mandated by the district’s code of conduct.

Once that realization spread, the school effectively went from quality to chaos overnight. The following is but a sample of what an average day looked and sounded like:

- Students standing in the hall and kicking classroom doors for five to ten minutes at a time
- Students fighting
- Teachers pelted with paper, pencils, erasers, and rocks whenever they turned their heads
- Assignments torn up and thrown on the floor the moment they’re passed out
- Teachers cursed at, threatened, and sometimes even assaulted
- Classroom supplies vandalized or thrown about the room
- Groups of students running the halls and showing up to one or two classes at most
- Constant yelling and shouting from the hallways
- Gang writing written on the walls with permanent markers
- Students talking and yelling so loud in the classroom that nobody could hear the teacher

By “students”, I’m of course referring to the 15-25% that were chronically disruptive. The truth is that the overwhelming majority in each class were great kids who came every day ready to learn. Besides being from an impoverished part of town, they were no different than students at any other school.

This wasn’t just a problem at my school. When I spoke with other teachers throughout the district, they told me that the situation at their school was nearly identical to mine. Some of their stories are just as outrageous.

When students are subjected to a toxic environment that prevents learning, all other education concerns—curriculum, standards, integrating technology, etc—become totally irrelevant. Unfortunately, this is something rarely ever addressed in both local and national media. And education reformers—whether from watching Freedom Writers one too many times or just understanding that blaming teachers is politically expedient right now—repeat until they’re red in the face the idea that a teacher with leadership skills and high expectations can fix everything short of the conflict in the Middle East.

So what did our school leaders focus on, if not the toxic atmosphere in the schools? The superintendent—a product of the Broad Superintendents Academy—was concerned mostly with “right-sizing” the district, preparing to implement standards-based learning at pilot schools, and token efforts towards “community involvement”. As for the school board…well, that’s anyone’s guess. I think they were more concerned with political in-fighting and a sudden attempt to appear legitimate.

I should be surprised that the toxic atmosphere wasn’t addressed, but I’m not. I came to realize a certain truth about this country’s urban schools: their leaders—especially those at the district level—rarely have any stake in whether or not the schools are successes or failures. They’re not a part of those communities, they don’t send their children to the schools they oversee (except, sometimes, the selective admissions-based ones), and at the end of the day, whatever happens doesn’t really affect them. They’re working with other peoples’ children. The only thing they have to lose is their jobs—and that’s easy to protect if they cover their rear, furnish the necessary documentation, and blame those below them.

Though I was also not a part of my district’s community, it was different for me since I was a teacher. Teachers bond with their students, become their advocates, share in the joy of their successes, and help them learn from their failures. They feel the pain of their situations at home, keep extra granola bars and juice boxes on hand for those who don’t get enough food, and go above and beyond to ensure that they get the education they need. Their students are real people and they care deeply about them. They’re not just a statistic on some document.

As a teacher, I saw firsthand the very people who were failed by my district’s leaders:
- They failed C.P., a quirky, wonderful student who was reading Plato’s Republic for fun in seventh grade
- They failed D.W., a bright, talented student who although sometimes lost his temper due to problems at home, would always apologize afterwards.
- They failed M.J., the sweetest, nicest, most prim and proper student I’ve ever met, who was forced to endure disruption day after day by one of her classmates who threatened to shoot others, was arrested for armed robbery, and made sexually harassing comments to girls
- They also failed M.W., a student who although acted as a class clown at times, was incredibly smart, motivated, and had the potential to do anything he wanted to in life

Were there other problems? Of course there were, but the chronically disruptive atmosphere was by far the most significant and destructive. It’s a problem that’s conspicuously absent from successful suburban schools—which don’t tolerate outrageous misbehavior—and is usually never mentioned by education reformers, policy experts, consultants, and the other people who pretend to know what’s best for our schools.

Perhaps my expectations are too high. After all, how can I expect them to understand the seriousness of this problem if they’ve spent little or no time working in the very schools they pretend to be experts about?

You can follow Frank Beard on twitter @FrankBeard, or email him at

Jacksonville Schools Lack Discipline

Schools lack discipline
I find all this debate about the high school magnet programs at Paxon, Stanton and Douglas Anderson and if we should keep them as they are both sad and laughable. Laughable because parents, the district and the media are missing the real causes of the differences between the grades and sad because the same entities don't seem to be doing anything to correct the real problems. The real problem is our neighborhood schools are filled with apathy and lack discipline, problems the magnet schools don't face. Take care of those two problems and I believe we could sit back and watch the neighborhood schools grades rise.

Where I think it borderline inappropriate to celebrate the successes the magnet schools are having when so many other schools are struggling the reality is, differences between our A schools and our D and F schools aren't that great and are definitely fixable. Where I believe it's true that the magnet schools play a role in the problems that neighborhood schools are experiencing by siphoning away some of the brightest and most motivated, who coincidently are often the students that are in the least amount of trouble, this definitely isn't the neighborhood schools biggest problem.

The differences between the neighborhood schools and the magnet schools are the neighborhood schools are filled with apathy and lack discipline. One set of schools battle these problems daily and the other set has received a pass. This is one of the reasons I would put the faculty of the F school I work at against any faculty in any magnet school in the district. Our amazing and dedicated group of teachers goes to work everyday, often unappreciated and then do great things with their students and that's while having to put up with the serious problems the teachers at the magnet schools don't have to. However it's not just my school that has a good staff, every school in the district has dedicated teachers doing their best to educate their students, a significant amount of who really want to learn and do well, and this is every where from Stanton, to Ribault to Ed White and all the schools in between. The differences are in the problems the staffs face.

First apathy, the students at the magnet schools want to be there where many of the students at the neighborhood school feel forced to be there. This is a hoop they must jump through on their way to adulthood. The main reason for this is that for some reason in Duval County we insist on preparing children just for a college education, when quite frankly a lot of the students in the neighborhood schools aren't interested in it or for a variety of reasons aren't ready for it. We have students taking classes they are not prepared for like algebra II, physics and chemistry (classes I didn't have to take and I am teaching at the public, neighborhood school that I went to), when they should be taking classes that teach them carpentry, plumbing, electronics, cooking, computers, etc. etc. etc. classes that will give them a skill, or prepare them for the real world. If we are going to have magnet schools for college prep., why don't we also have more magnet schools for skills preparation and not just Peterson, which every year gets harder and harder to get into?

Furthermore many students are not interested in those classes yet they are forced to take them. I'll tell you why, it's because some elected official who has never been in the classroom read a paper written by some college professor who has never been in a public school, which said we are falling behind in math and science. As the holder of multiple college liberal arts degrees that required very little background in math and science I am here to tell you we can be successful with just a cursory knowledge of advanced science and math. What about students that want to be social workers, (non math or science) teachers, writers, work in law enforcement or dozens of other fields, where is the liberal arts curriculum that serves them.

Instead of developing a practical curriculum for those students who don't want to go to college, who may want to work instead or for students interested in liberal arts subjects, the powers that be insist students take classes they will never use again. I saw a skit on the David Letterman show a few years back, it was about weird and unusual people; they introduced Mark Sampson from Tara Haute, Indian, he was weird and unusual because he had used algebra to solve an everyday problem. When I was in high school again at the school I am now teaching at, I took general math 2 as a junior and no math as a senior, I also took no sciences that required math either in high school or college. In case you are wondering I have degrees in political science and psychology, and I chose them partly based on the lack of math they required.

Its worse for some special education students working on special ed. diplomas which and I am not sure if they or their parents know this or not aren't worth the paper they are printed on. At a meeting the other day we were discussing putting some special education students in regular education classes because we thought they could do it, until somebody mentioned they would also have to take algebra 2 and chemistry. The enthusiastic attitude we had quickly changed to a defeated one as we agreed what's the point.

A worse problem than apathy however is the lack of discipline in our schools. Now don't get me wrong, most students are a treat or no worse than a momentary problem here or there, but there are also more than a few students who make educating the rest very difficult. Everyday in the teachers lounges throughout the district you hear educators lament, if only Johnny wasn't in my class I could teach, or thank goodness little Suzy was absent, I felt like a teacher today. The district has made it nearly impossible to remove these children to alternative schools unless they bring a gun to school (though not always) or beat up a teacher, as just threatening a teacher often isn't enough. By allowing these few students to skate by with little or no consequences and remember for a consequence to be effective it must have meaning, for their behavior we are courting disaster. Do we need a tragedy to happen, like a student being rushed to the hospital after a fight, something that happened at my school earlier in the week or something worse, before we bring discipline back to the classroom and get rid of these unruly few? Think about it, if a teacher spends just ten percent of his time disciplining those students who show no desire to be in school, who come not to learn but to see what trouble they can find, then all the students in the class are loosing out on 18 days of instruction in a school year, some teachers are forced to spend a lot more than ten percent. I wonder how discipline is at the magnet schools; I would guess it's not much of a problem.

Continuing when watching the news or reading the newspaper it is obvious our community has been infected by an epidemic of violence, and for the most part it is young people committing it. I wonder how these former students did while they were in school, if they were discipline problems or not, and if they were what kind of consequences they received for their behavior. My guess would be none, that they were managed instead of dealt with or socially promoted so they could be the next schools or societies problem. What do you think happens when children are allowed to do whatever they want in school with only the slightest of punishments, well they become adults without respect or care for their fellow citizens.

Imagine if students went to schools where they participated in curriculums that were relevant to their interests or desires. Imagine if students went to schools where their teachers could concentrate on teaching rather than disciplining a rowdy few. Imagine what the grades of those schools would look like. Imagine if all high schools could eject students with a 2.0 grade point average or less. I bet more parents would be involved if they knew they would have to pay for a private school if their child was evicted from public school.

Where I believe the magnet program is deeply flawed (mostly because of an unfair distribution of resources, and them being able to hand pick and drop their students, where other schools take what they get and do the best they can with them) I see the real problems at the neighborhood schools not being a brain drain but unrealistic expectations from the powers that be. We have curriculums that breed apathy and don't prepare students not headed to college for the real world. But worse neighborhood schools have students with severe discipline problems and when we coddle then we are in effect allowing the inmates to run the asylum. This serious lack of discipline impedes instruction. We must develop meaningful consequences for repeat and serious offenders, because if not, what is the point. I believe no child left behind should be changed to; we are leaving about ten percent of them behind until they straighten up. If we could fight apathy and instill discipline, then I believe we would watch the grades of neighborhood schools rise, and rise quickly and dramatically.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Teachers easily hired, easily fired

From the Daily Kos

by PL Thomas

Detroit rises to the status of a major character in Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex. About a fifth of the way into the novel, the narrator, Calliope/Cal Stephanides makes this observation about the arrival of the automotive industry in the Motor City:

"Historical fact: people stopped being human in 1913. That was the year Henry Ford put his cars on rollers and made his workers adopt the speed of the assembly line. At first, workers rebelled. They quit in droves, unable to accustom their bodies to the new pace of the age. Since then, however, the adaptation has been passed down: we've all inherited it to some degree, so that we plug right into joysticks and remotes, to repetitive motions of a hundred kinds.

"But in 1922 it was still a new thing to be a machine.

"...Part of the new production method's genius was its division of labor into unskilled tasks. That way you could hire anyone. And fire anyone."

This is a chilling passage about the dawning of the assembly line era of American manufacturing, but equally as chilling is that this passage offers a clue to where we now are heading in U.S. public education and the fate of the American teacher.

A Teacher Is a Teacher Is a Teacher...

Like Henry Ford, Bill Gates has ushered in a new era in U.S. public education, shifting the already robust accountability era that began in the early 1980s and accelerated in 2001 with the passing of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) from focusing on student accountability for standards and test scores to demanding that teachers be held accountable for student test scores addressing those standards. Gates has been assisted by Michelle Rhee and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as the "No Excuses" Reformers have perpetuated narratives conjuring the myth of the "bad" teacher, which Adam Bessie has confronted by suggesting we hire hologram teachers in order to remove the greatest problem facing education: Humans.

Just as the assembly line rendered all workers interchangeable, and thus, easy to hire, and easy to fire, the current education reforms focusing on teacher accountability, value-added methods (VAM) of evaluating teachers, and the growing fascination with Teach for America (TFA) are seeking the same fact for teachers: A de-professionalized workforce of teaching as a service industry, easy to hire, and easy to fire.

All of the following are both key elements of the "No Excuses" Reformers' plans and steps to eradicating teaching as a profession in the U.S.:

• Secretary Duncan leads the chorus of "teachers are the most important factor in student achievement" despite ample evidence that teacher influence on measurable student outcomes, tests, is only about 10-20%. This refrain serves two purposes for the "No Excuses" Reformers: (1) Deflect attention from the 60-80% influence that out-of-school factors play in student achievement, and (2) insure that teachers are de-professionalized, thus creating a cheap labor force for a privatized education system.

• The propaganda continues to increase calling for TFA recruits to serve high-poverty schools. The evidence on TFA recruits is sparse, but what exists doesn't support using uncertified and inexperienced teachers to address the problem faced by many high-poverty schools: A lack of certified, experienced teachers. Thus, TFA recruits can only be attractive because they represent the Ford ideal of workers easy to hire and easy to fire (exceptionally easy to fire, in fact, because they leave of their own accord in a short time).

• From The New York Times to President Obama in his 2012 State of the Union Address, VAM propaganda remains powerful, calling for holding teachers accountable for their students' test scores. Yet, after careful examinations of the study, any claims that VAM is effective remain unfounded. Again, we must conclude that seeking ways to quickly hire and fire teachers is more important than if any method achieves the claimed goals of seeking higher student achievement. VAM is a terrible tool for identifying and rewarding excellent teaching, but, like the assembly line, it is an effective tool for reducing any worker to a cog.

• While 50 states have implemented accountability, standards, and testing without satisfactory results, "No Excuses" Reformers are committed to national standards, and the expected national tests to follow. While there is no national or international evidence that standards and testing improve education, this call for federalizing standards and testing proves to be an important lever for removing completely teacher autonomy and creating the platform upon which teachers are easily fired.

The ultimate evidence that "No Excuses" Reformers want to de-professionalize teaching, however, is the issue of professional autonomy. Accountability must be preceded by autonomy; otherwise, accountability is tyranny. Instead of creating professional autonomy for teachers, however, every aspect of the "No Excuses" Reform movement is bent on removing autonomy from teachers while reducing further all student achievement to tests so that teacher quality can be easily and quickly quantified as well.

In the wake of Obama's State of the Union speech and the prospect of where "No Excuses" Reform will go next, I think it isn't much of a stretch to consider the possibility of this sentence coming to pass:

Historical fact: teachers stopped being professionals in 2013.

It is the path we are on, and it is a path that must be avoided.,-Easy-to-Fire

Florida school rankings coming Monday

from the Orlando Sentinel School Zone

by Leslie Postal

Florida released its first-ever school district rankings this week and will follow that up with individual school rankings this Monday.

The state’s superintendents association said in an email this evening that it expects the new school rankings at the start of the school week.

Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said Monday that the individual school rankings would be out soon, listing Florida’s more than 3,000 schools within the categories of elementary, middle and high.

The Florida Association of District School Superintendents doesn’t like the rankings because they don’t take into account the “variables that affect student achievement.” Those variables can include poverty and a first language other than English.

State Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, the association’s executive director, told superintendents in a memo that he and key superintendents had shared those concersn with top DOE officials — but to no avail, so far.

That means the ranking of schools will be based on a formula that takes into account only student success on various FCAT exams.

If education was based on capitalism

ONCE UPON A TIME there was an economics professor...
She loved teaching almost as much as she loved her subject. Like most born teachers, she was much more interested in what her students learned than she was in establishing her authority in the classroom, or assigning grades. She knew that those things are necessary to the task of teaching, and to the system she taught in, but regarded them as tools to be used to increase learning.
One year she found herself teaching a class full of dyed-in-the-wool conservatives. They seemed unable to think beyond their ideology, and countered any evidence she presented with economic dogma, which they didn't even seem to have thought through.
"Free markets can be trusted to solve all problems," they said, "economic or otherwise."
"Government regulation will predictably lead to economic collapse," they said.
"Any attempt to introduce enforced 'fairness' into a system," they said, "will only undermine the market forces which make the system work."
The teacher was saddened at their closed-mindedness and narrowness of thought. She considered long and hard how to get them to connect their thinking to the real world, which she knew was much more complex than their political theories.
Finally, she came up with a plan.
She walked into class one day, faced the students, and asked a question.
"Do you see any similarities between our country as a whole and this classroom?"
The students were silent at first, then one raised a timid hand.
"Well, the country has citizens, and the classroom has students..."
"Very good," the teacher replied. "So if you represent the citizens, who symbolizes the government?"
Another hand went up.
"You do."
"Exactly. And what would be the equivalent of currency?"
"Very good. Would you be willing to undertake a little experiment, in order to test whether government regulation is a good thing or a bad thing, right here in this classroom?"
The students, being a bit cocky, readily agreed.
"Fine. HERE'S WHAT I PROPOSE," the professor said. "I will grade the scheduled exams and papers just as I always have, and assign the grades as usual. However, from this moment forward, I will cease to regulate how you go about writing those papers or taking the tests."
The students, blinded by their ideology, saw no problem with this.
The first paper was due the next week. Several of the top students turned in their usual excellent work, and were very surprised to get C's when the grades were returned.
They might never have figured out what happened, except that one or two of the students who received A's couldn't resist bragging.
Those students, the others who had received A's, and most of the ones who had received B's, had simply gone to the library and found an article by a professional economist which fit the assignment. They had then copied it, changed the name to their own, and turned it in.
The students who had worked very hard on their papers only to get C's immediately went to the teacher and complained.
"But they cheated!"
"Yes. I know."
"Aren't you going to do anything about it?"
"What would you want me to do?"
"Disqualify their papers. Give them F's. Give us the A's."
"But your papers aren't as good as theirs. You're asking for government regulation. We agreed to let market forces work this out."
The next grade was on a test. By now the class had begun to figure out how the new system was working, so it was no surprise that only the very best students took their own test.
The richest students spent their inherited money to hire other professors from the economics department to sit in for them.
Some of these students were deeply disappointed, since it was mostly the more conservative professors who would agree that the deregulated approach was legitimate, and of course they had the same ideological blinders on that the students did, so they didn't do so well on a fact-based test.
Some students who were less well off hired other students in the department, with mixed results.
Some of the better students in the class dropped out, in order to take exams for wealthier students.
But that was only one exam.
By the end of the course, the market had gotten a lot smarter. Fewer mistakes were made, and consequently students pretty much got the grades they had legitimately paid for.
The richest students formed a corporation and pooled their resources to hire a burglar, who stole the answers from the teacher's office. They got all the A's.
The poorest students couldn't compete, so they dropped out, taking F's.
With a few exceptions, the students in between had grades which generally reflected how wealthy their parents were.
On the last day of class, the teacher asked the students what they thought of the experiment.
Oddly enough, the wealthiest students thought it had gone fine.
The students in the middle ranges, however, weren't so sure. In general, the more competent they were, the less they thought of the system.
And, of course, the poorest students weren't there anymore, and so had no voice.

The President's State of the Union address sickens some teachers

by Mike Brocoum

President Obama's speech sickened me when he spoke about education. Doesn't want teachers to teach to the test but wants their evaluations, salary raises and even job security based on test scores. Such arrogance. Did he really think the contradiction would be missed?