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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Cable news coverage of education, guess who isn't included.

Reading teacher laments, Duval is getting it all wrong, students suffering for no reason.

I received the following note today, which is basically the same note I have received a half dozen times or more from ELA/reading teachers throughout the district this year. The gist is the state shifted down it's reading instruction, second became first, first became kindergarten and so on and many teachers don't feel this change was appropriate. 

As you read the note below imagine the frustration and angst the teacher must be feeling wanting to what's best for their students but not being able to, instead stopped by a system that wants  to try out the latest new thing. Here is a hint, there is always a latest new thing.

Hi Chris,
My name is xxxx xxxxx, and my dad told me about your blog and I wanted to reach out.

This is my 10th year teaching. I am at a very high frustration level with Duval county and their i-ready kick. I have seen it frustrate my 1st grade students, my daughter and other teachers, including myself. I know enough about what is developmentally appropriate and what isn't to know this is not. This is going to come and go, but take a lot of students down in the mean time. I refuse to let this take place any longer.

Not only is it not following the curriculum we are teaching, but our teacher EOY Eval. scores are based on what the students do on this program. It has nothing to do with what we are teaching them, but yet our score will be based on them clicking a button!

We are supposed to be implementing 2nd grade reading in a 1st grade class and 1st grade reading in a kindergarten class.....there's something wrong with this. My class average went down after just assessing them 2 weeks on the fry words the district is wanting us to use, which of course are not 1st grade level. So, I am going against what the other teachers are doing and what is "required" of me because I REFUSE to see students suffer for no reason and give them words that are not developmentally appropriate. Including my own child.

Why do teachers sit back and not stand up for what is right? I don't understand? I would love to blog, start a petition, anything to get this madness to stop. Something has to be done. What can I do and who should I go to? Thank you.

They ask a good question at the end. People don't come to me first. They raise their hand at faculty meetings, they voice their concerns at department ones. Teachers I believe want to work with the system but what are they supposed to do when the system starts hurting the children it is supposed to help?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Is Florida purposely hurting its children?

If Florida weren’t so intent on dismantling and privatizing our public schools we could really do a lot of good for our children. Northwestern University just completed a study that said class size helps and helps a lot. Unfortunately Florida has gutted the class size amendment to the point it is nearly unrecognizable.

We also know there is a teacher shortage and almost half of all new teachers leave in five years but the Florida legislature seems to be intent to do whatever it can to handicap the profession. Not only our Florida’s teachers some of the worst paid in the nation but we have saddled them with evaluations, tied to pay based on the junk science of Value Added Measurements which the Department of Education even admits are wrong more than a third of the time.

Florida has also stifled creativity and put a premium on teaching to the test. If we paid teachers a competitive wage and allowed them to be creative and innovative and didn’t saddle them with an evaluation system no one thinks is valid and a punitive test then immediately we would both attract and retain more teachers.

Then there is poverty which Florida thinks it can fix by ignoring it and blaming teachers for not being able to overcome it.  How about we helped instead by putting in measures that mitigate poverty like smaller classes, a longer school year and wrap around services for our neediest children.

Finally we need to stop siphoning off precious resources to charters and vouchers. Despite advantages charters perform worse than public schools and the system is set up so we have no idea how vouchers are doing.  That should infuriate everyone.

Florida could really do some good for its children unfortunately almost everything we do does the opposite.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The worst four words in education, It's for the children!

School choice fans think all they have to say is, “it’s for the children” or “what if we put the children’s needs first” and people who have legitimate concerns or questions will slink away. It’s as if those two phrases give them justification to say or do whatever they want. Here is what happens when we put those words with some of the byproducts of Florida’s school choice movement.

Segregation, what charter schools are bringing back, is all for the children.

Counseling out poor performers, what many charter schools do, is putting the needs of the children first.

How about, voucher schools don’t need accountability both academically and financially, because it is what is best for the children.

Starving public schools of resources, that’s both it’s for the children and putting their needs first.

Not providing services to or excluding disabled children what most school choice schools do, hey that’s best for them too.  

Let’s put the needs of children first but filtering them into substandard options, like charters and vouchers, many of which are for profit.

I wonder if Lloyd brown knows how ridiculous he sounds when he criticizes Wayne Blanton the outgoing head of the School Board Association who has spent a lifetime serving children and like most educators do putting their needs first, when he asks what if we put the needs of the children first.

When the School Board association, supported by the PTA, the NAACP, the League of Women voters and many other organizations took vouchers to court they didn’t do so because they see children as FTE money they did so because they are putting the needs of all our children first.

Private schools and charter schools that take public money are bad for democracy.

Private schools and charter schools that take public money as a group and despite advantages perform worse than their public school counter parts.

Private schools that take public money resist both financial and academic accountability.

Finally many charter schools that take public money are for profit.

Lloyd Brown and other fans of school choice may think all of that is putting the needs of children first but what it really is, is privatization and it’s bad for our children.

Friday, December 26, 2014

John Thrasher takes his hypocrisy to Florida State

Full disclosure I am not a Florida State fan, in fact as I type this I am wearing my favorite Florida tee. This however is not about football rivalries it’s about the hypocrisy of FSU president, John “golden rule, he who has the gold makes the rules” Thrasher. That’s a quote from him by the way.

Example 1, as a republican he preached financial responsibility for his entire career, but then refused to drop out of his race for senate even though his appointment at Tallahassee was all but assured. At the same time he is getting a hundreds of thousands of dollars raise, he is costing the tax payers of Florida hundreds of thousands of dollars, the cost of his and several other special elections that him not dropping out has created.

Example 2, despite fighting against tenure for public school teachers, he accepted tenure from the trustees at Florida State. Apparently what is good for the golden goose is not good for the ganders.

Example 3, one of his first acts at Florida State is to give Jimbo Fisher an eight year contract.  I won’t argue that he deserves job security, I believe everybody does if they do a good job but I would like to point out that now teachers do not have any. Since 2011 all new teachers hired and all veteran teachers that want to switch to the merit pay plan (none that I know of) can now be fired at the end of the school year for any reason or for no reason because none has to be given. This is what John Thrasher through his teaching profession kneecapping Senate bill 736 has created. Successful football coach, 8 years, successful teachers, year to year.

Welcome to Tallahassee where public school teachers are constantly marginalized and neglected while football and hypocrisy reign supreme.

As I said above I am not a fan of Florida State, and thanks to Thrasher I have a lot of company. 

Florida districts pushing back against charter schools: it's still not enough.

The Sun Sentinel, behind a pay wall, when did news just become for the well off, did a piece on how more and more Florida districts are rejecting charter school applications that don't have air tight financing. Where long over due when you consider that over 260 have open taken public money and failed over the last few years, it's not nearly enough.

More and more charter schools, usually part of for profit chains have changed their business models. Ditching innovation, they have started opening schools in affluent neighborhoods. In my home town of Jacksonville we have approved charter schools down the street form A schools and this despite our superintendent publicly lamenting the loss of resources. I believe privately he doesn't care.

The concept of charters is an attractive one, parent/teacher driven laboratories of innovation. The reality is many have become for profit schools that care first about the bottom line, that don't offer anything approaching innovation and that as a group perform worse.

Opening up a charter school should be more difficult than filling out boxes on an application and having bought off a few politicians. They should at the very least offer something the surrounding schools are not. They should have local teachers and parents collaborating together to develop programs rather than using the regurgitated programs presented by chains and I don't believe they should be for profit. All the resources available should be put into the schools not into some far off connected business man's bank account.

The idea of charter schools has a place, a role to play as a supplement to public education where the reality of what they have become should be regulated to the dist bin of bad ideas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The disastrous consequences school choice, vouchers and charters has for disabled children.

We have long known that charters take fewer disabled children than their public school counter parts

but what happens to the few that do attend? Well recent news reports indicate they have a rough time going. By themselves the examples below show a callousness towards the plight and needs of disabled children but when taken together they show a disturbing pattern of neglect towards our most needy children.

New Orleans lauded by Arne Duncan, who inappropriately said hurricane Katrina was the best thing that could have happened, and other for their charter schools recently lost a law suit where they admitted they had not been providing services to disabled children. From the Times Picayune.

The Louisiana Education Department, Orleans Parish School Board and Southern Poverty Law Center asked federal Judge Jay Zainey on Friday (Dec. 19) to approve a settlement in a landmarkspecial education suit. Plaintiffs said the Louisiana Department of Education and Orleans Parish School Board did not adequately educate children with disabilities in the fragmented network of charter and district schools that sprung up in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Next we move to Pennsylvania where Charter Schools USA is attempting to take over an entire district and in doing so plan massive cuts to ESE staffs. From the York Dispatch:
Making comparisons: For example, the staffing matrix included in the proposed contract presented to the school board showed a plan for 16 special-education teachers district-wide.
Currently, there are 14 special-education teachers at William Penn Senior High School alone.
Across its eight buildings, the district currently employs 68 special-education teachers, according to information recently provided by Superintendent Eric Holmes.

Then there is Florida where some schools were paid extra to provide services but never did. From State Impact: A StateImpact Florida/Miami Herald investigation shows most charter schools in 
Florida are failing to serve students with severe disabilities.
Statewide, 86 percent of charter schools do not have any students classified as severely disabled.
That’s despite state and federal laws that require charter schools to give equal access to these students.

Here is another one from the world of vouchers.

From the Sun Sentinel, talking about private schools that receive vouchers: Florida spent $8.5 million in taxpayer money last year to provide vouchers to learning disabled students in Palm Beach County to attend private schools – but makes no effort to ensure the schools are providing the required services.

The law that created the vouchers does not require private schools to have anyone on staff with any sort of certification in dealing with children with learning disabilities. Nor are there public controls in place to check whether the schools are helping them.

Segregation, for profit, exclusion, counseling out, are all brought to you courtesy of the school choice movement and our most vulnerable children are paying the biggest price.

Monday, December 22, 2014

School choice is nothing but a red herring for privatization.

Living in Florida it’s not just the weather that changes every fifteen minutes but the rationale behind school choice too.

First vouchers and charters were about getting kids out of failing public schools but when it turned out that public schools were doing better than charters, over 260 have failed and nobody has any real idea how voucher schools are doing because the system was set up so they could avoid both financial and academic accountability, they changed the narrative to one that emphasized competition. The reasoning was that competition would make everybody better. Well charters and vouchers as a group didn’t get that memo as one scandal after another has made the headlines and neither perform better than the public schools they are seeking to replace. In fact quite often the only thing they made better were the bank accounts of their operators. 

Now they have changed the narrative once again calling for a Kumbaya moment saying charters and private schools that take vouchers and public schools should let their differences go, hold hands and come together to address what’s best for children. Gone are the failing public school and competition narratives almost like they never existed. Why talk about the past?

I and many others believe this is just another red herring designed to distract us from the dismal record of charters the lack of accountability with vouchers and hide their real agenda which is the destruction of teacher unions and the privatization of our schools.

I wonder what their next narrative will be.

Tallahassee needs to focus on public schools, not charters and vouchers.

Our public education system is designed to benefit us all whether we have a child attending a school or not. This means when we start to weaken it by diverting funds to mostly for profit charter schools which have been marred by closure and scandal after closure and scandal and to vouchers which funnel money into barely regulated schools lacking both financial and academic oversight we are all harmed.

Article nine, section one of the Florida Constitution says: The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.

The system has been set up so that we have no idea how students that attend schools with vouchers paid for with taxes diverted from the state coffers are doing. Also over 260 charter schools have opened taken public money and failed leaving families and communities in a lurch leaving behind mostly for profit charters behind. I am sure neither of which can be what the framers of our constitution envisioned when they wrote the article above. The three headed monster Tallahassee has created over the last few years is neither uniform, efficient and in the case of vouchers and charters high quality.

In the New Year, Tallahassee should scale back charters and vouchers and invest in our public schools and that’s not just my and millions of people’s opinion, it’s what the Florida constitution demands.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

If you don't support vouchers it doesn't mean you are heartless.

As a teacher I disagree with fellow teacher Marlene Desdunes op-ed in the Miami Herald on vouchers and not just because I am heartless. There are many legitimate concerns people should have about vouchers like how they resist both financial and academic accountability and until those issues are resolved it’s beyond me why anybody would support vouchers in the current form but okay earnest people can disagree.

My question is since the vouchers are supposed to be for the neediest of the needy, how is Desdunes family even eligible. According to public records her salary as a school teacher is between 44 and 49 thousand dollars. She writes in her piece which could have been taken right form the Step up for Students, the group that administers the vouchers, FAQ page: “These scholarship children come from homes where the average income is only 5 percent above poverty.” Since her salary nearly doubles what qualifies for poverty, how is her daughter who she says receives a scholarship even eligible?

Therein lies the problem. Vouchers may have been sold as saving poor kids from failing schools but they are being transformed into a replacement for public education and I remind you once again about the almost complete lack of accountability that they have.

I believe as a school teacher Desdunes is way under paid and I will take her word for it that her daughter’s school is wonderful but at the end of the day how many voucher schools are wonderful, how many are providing an adequate education, how many are using the money sent to them properly? The truth is nobody knows because the system was willfully set up that way and wanting to know does not make people heartless. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The district plays scrooge for Christmas

A story from a reader you could hear thousands of times across the city.

I also teach in Duval County, we have interactive text book our students are not allowed to write in. 

We are told we have to purchase our own copy paper and printer ink for the classroom. 

We are allowed a small number of copies from the office , I would use my allotment in 3 days. 

I use 140 copies a day because we are using alternative resource due to the lack of rigor with the current curriculum. 

We are a title 1 school. Where is the funding going?

That's a good question.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jacksonville should step up and take care of its teachers.

The JPEF wants to raise your taxes and I think it is a good idea too.

The difference however is what we think the money should be spent on.

I have been advocating for a half cent sales tax for education issues since 2007 and it’s something a few more public education friendly districts have already done.

Palm Beach has a special property tax that pays for Music, PE and Art classes and programs.

Broward County has a tax that supports technology too.

Then Orange County has a half cent sales tax for school construction.

But one tax not mentioned above is the three percent income tax imposed on Florida’s teachers and others who pay into the Florida Retirement System. Going on three years ago the legislature took three percent of teachers pay because they said it was needed to shore up the pension system. The problems were numerous. First the pension system did not need shoring up, it was one of the best and healthiest in the nation. Next the money taken from teachers was not put into the pension fund it was put into the general fund and now we know where the surplus Tallahassee is so proud of comes from. Finally my pension did not get three percent better but my pay check sure as heck got three percent smaller.
You might be saying but three years ago we were on the brink of an economic disaster, to which I would reply, well since we’re not now how about returning that money to teachers and if things were so desperate then why were we giving tax breaks to friends of Rick Scott and other businesses.

Okay, I feel like I have gotten a little off topic. I guess my point is a small tax increase to pay for technology and construction are both good and needed things but what about helping out teachers? A recent study said Jacksonville was 108 out of 125 in pay for large districts in the entire nation.

I didn’t become a teacher to get rich but why did it take me ten years to get to 40k, while in other big districts do they either start off that way or it takes less than 5 years to get there and why did Florida feel the need to balance its books on the backs of its teachers? Furthermore why are district administrators worth fair market value but they think they can both get away with and be successful paying teachers on the cheap?

So when the JPEF asks a question about a new tax to fund education priorities but leaves out giving teachers a decent salary or making up for their losses it is frustrating.

Teachers don’t become teachers to get rich but that doesn’t mean they should be stepped on, abused marginalized or neglected and it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paid a fair wage for what they do and if Tallahassee isn’t going to step up and do what’s right then the people of Jacksonville should.   

If they are willing to, is a question JPEF should be asking.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fans of school vouchers refuse to answer legitimate concerns.

They say they are for the poor and mostly minority students who have the least but then shrug their shoulders at the massive cuts to Bright Futures which disproportionately effects poor and mostly minority students the most.

They say they have to take a norm referenced tests, well if they are so great why don’t we dump the high stakes testing agenda for public schools and say they can take the same types of tests too?   
They say they save money while at the same time districts lament the millions and millions of dollars they are losing.

They say they are just for poor families but then ask you not to remember that they expanded the eligibility for a family of four from making just over 20 thousand to making just over sixty.

Furthermore the supporters of vouchers usually are also for S.T.E.M, Common Core and teacher accountability but shrug their shoulders at those things for private schools that take vouchers where teachers do not have to be certified nor curriculums recognized.

Also private schools that take less than a quarter of million dollars, the vast majority of them, don’t even have to report how they spend the money and since over seventy percent of the money goes to religious institutions we have effectively dismantled the first amendment too.

Finally this program with the barest of oversight is allowed to expand 25 percent a year, in less than five years it will take a billion dollars annually out of the state coffers and our education system.

Despite all this voucher proponents would have you believe the program is fine and those that oppose it or have legitimate questions are just heartless seeking to harm poor and mostly minority children.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Senator Allan Hayes, went from sane and reasonable to Bat-Sh*t crazy in the span of a few short days.

I guess in Florida we should be happy when it comes to education for even just a little bit of sanity.

Allan Hayes went from saying: "Schoolteachers in the audience and the administrators, please correct me if my perception is incorrect. But I think that what no one has mentioned in here today - We are engaged in the destruction of our talent pool in education. No teacher that I know of is going to want to continue to teach under these kinds of trying circumstances. They’re leaving like crazy. Understand this. They’re leaving like rats off a sinking ship. And they’re quality teachers. They have the intellect and the ability to move into the business world and make far more money than they’re making as teachers, under far less trying circumstances.

And not only that, but we’re poisoning the well. How many high school students do you know that are experiencing this train wreck and hearing all this stuff and seeing it first hand are going to want to go to college to become a teacher? It’s not going to happen. This is a mess and we need to stop it right now."

To filing legislation requiring both 8th and 11th graders to watch Dinesh D’souza’s, America: imagine the world without her, widely regarded as the worst of the worst of right-wing propaganda.

Now I have joked kids should watch the HBO series OZ and then after each episode saying, and that’s the good part of the prison, but I was joking where Senator Hayes sadly seems to be being serious.

He went from nailing it to being old man Mcgilicutty yelling at imaginary kids to get off his lawn.

It’s not just the weather that changes every fifteen minutes in Florida.

Sonita Young predicted Duval County would have few highly effective teachers

And that’s because she was part of the team that set up the system to be that way.

From an October 2012 Times Union article: Sonita Young, the district's chief human resources officer said , It’s likely, that very few teachers will fall into the “highly effective” category under the new system. Most of Duval’s teachers are going to fall under “effective” or “needs improvement” because there isn’t a correlation between the existing definition of “highly effective” and the new one.

This makes it seems like she is okay with that and her prediction has come true as Duval has one of the lowest percentages of highly effective teachers in the state. 

What were the reasons we selected a system meant to undervalue teachers? Well I believe it is because the district both does not appreciate teachers and wants to save money. Regardless if you agree or not Young’s 2012 prediction has come true.

Is UNF part of the solution or the problem?

First once again I would like to thank Dr. Michael Binder for getting back to me about questions I had about the JPEF/UNF opinion poll taken last week. His answers were all very reasonable but I think he missed my point and that is, does UNF want to be part of the problem or part of the solution?

If UNF blindly takes questions from JPEF, or any organization for that matter and just presents their findings then they are part of the problem, they have just tacitly endorsed their agenda. Despite the P standing for Public in JPEF’s name, I believe their overall, far reaching goal is the privatization of public education.
When I asked why giving money to teachers wasn’t an option with potential new taxes, implying JPEF considered them after thoughts, Dr. Binder wrote:  Again, I would direct that question to JPEF.   I could venture guesses, none of which are as Machiavellian as you're implying, but they would simply be guesses.

Let’s talk about Machiavellian.

Since 2010 when JPEF arrived charter schools have increased by nearly 400 percent, from 10 to 35. Teach for America the same going from 50 members to 200.

A block of the JPEF board gave a considerable amount of money to a candidate in each school board race, after JPEF promised other nonprofits they would remain impartial, winning 3 out of four contests. They also created the QEA which has pushed from behind closed doors the market ideas they champion.

They have donated substantially to the public policy institute at Jacksonville University and to WJCT which gave Gary Chartrand a champion of education award. Undoubtedly they have purchased influence at both places.

The same Gary Chartrand, never an educator is chairman of the state board of education has said, anybody can be a teacher, it’s good that they don’t have work protections and has used his position to support charters over district objections state wide and would like nothing better than for Jacksonville to be the first open enrollment district in the state. Okay that last part was conjecture on my part but nothing else was.   

He is the prince and JPEF is his steed. His goal is the destruction of public education and teaching as a profession. I will let you decide if that is conjecture or not.

I believe UNF should take the time to ask questions because if they did that then they would get better answers for the city, right now they are just presenting the answers JPEF wants them to.