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Monday, June 30, 2014

Superintendent Vitti's unwavering faith in Teach for America creates mistrust among veteran teachers.

By Greg Sampson

I enjoyed listening to the interview Dr. Vitti gave on WJCT this morning via the First Coast Connect program (9 to 10 AM). The establishment of single gender classes and schools is an important topic that we need to hear more about. 

But first, I want to talk about a comment Dr. Vitti made that revealed he has had a nerve struck in regard to TFA, Teaching For America, that brings new teachers to our schools, most often to the schools that struggle the most. 

He said, “We have to get over this idea that there are union teachers and Teach for America teachers, they’re all teachers, and they all serve our children, we will have—initially, we do have a lot of teachers who are surplused, our enrollment is declining as I have been talking about for some time due to charter enrollment, and this process happens every year …  then what happens is—based on the contract which we have to follow—more veteran teachers are placed in those open positions throughout the county, and then we hire new teachers . Some of the new teachers that we hire were Teach for America teachers that work in our hard-to-staff, traditionally lower-performing schools because unfortunately we don’t have a line of teachers ready and waiting to teach in our hard-to-staff schools. So at the end of the year, I do believe we will arrive at a point where all of our surplused [teachers] are placed and we’ll have to hire some new teachers, usually again in our hard-to-staff schools, mainly in science and math on the secondary level.” 

He was asked via a listener email if TFA teachers would receive priority in placement from the surplus pool. I have edited his response to remove the ums and pauses. The ellipsis omits his challenge of the number of surplus teachers reported as 700. (You can listen to the entire half-hour here:

Understand that, despite the superintendent’s effort to downplay it, the number of teachers surplused this year is unprecedented. Understand further that the process of teacher movement and new appointments has become very disorganized. Very few understand what process the district is following, HR does not communicate eligibility for screened posts (Test Chair, Dean, etc.) as it promises, no one has been told if they are eligible for a transfer, and everyone is shaking their heads saying, “I’ve never seen it this bad.” 

The process has become a massive free-for-all as teachers take initiative to contact principals about openings and scramble to find a position. Some principals made some commitments and had to retract them as HR canceled the transaction because the surplus pool has to be dealt with first. 

If I could say something to Dr. Vitti, it would be this: you have created mistrust between yourself and teachers on many issues. We are tired of your surveys without end that seem designed to yield the answers you want, rather than giving us a chance to share what is on our minds. Give us an open comment box on a survey—let us tell you what we want you to know—then read, ponder, and respond. 

Back to TFA: there is clearly mistrust between career teachers, new teachers who came with education degrees, and even alternate certification teachers and DCPS on this issue. The overall question is whether TFA recruits are a privileged class of teachers or are we treated the same? Specifically, we want to know:

1.       There was a heavy surplus of teachers this Spring. Were TFA teachers protected from surplus or, as some of the most inexperienced teachers, were they surplused according to seniority like everyone else?
2.       If TFA teachers are in the surplus pool, will they be placed first? Or will DCPS proceed strictly according to seniority?
3.       If a RIF (reduction in force) takes place, are TFA teachers subject to RIF? Or will teachers with more seniority be RIFFed to preserve a place for them?
4.       DCPS has entered into a contract to increase the number of TFA teachers it will accept a minimum of 100 teachers for the next three years.  If DCPS does not have 100 positions available, will DCPS tell TFA sorry, we can’t take them, or will it RIF existing teachers to make room?
5.       Even if DCPS doesn’t RIF existing teachers, will TFA applicants be hired before applicants with a four-year degree from an accredited teaching college?

Clear answers to these questions would put many concerns, and yes suspicions, to rest.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sherry Hage stands up for her man and her Charter Schools too

The Sun Sentinel has done an amazing piece exposing charter schools for the liability that they are.

Sherry Hage the chief academic officer wrote in to defend charter schools. From the Sun Sentinel: As a professional educator, I spent 10 years in the classroom for Broward County Public School District. And for the past 13 years, I have worked at Charter Schools USA and currently serve as their Chief Academic Officer. I have seen the good, bad and ugly side of education. I can say with confidence that CSUSA driving change in the communities where we operate schools.

However one thing she leaves out is that she is married to the CEQ of Charter schools USA, nope doesn't mention it anywhere. Don't you think this would be a nice bit of info to have?

As for them helping communities not so fast, let me tell you about the most recent CUSA school to come to Jacksonville.

The charter for the Charter School at Mandarin was given to the Renaissance Charter School group the non-profit arm of Charter Schools USA (CUSA), who then contracted with CUSA to run the school and their construction arm Red Apple to build it. Some people might say one stop shopping; others might say their set up would make Columbian drug dealers envious. Red Apple by the way started construction before it was approved. They may have know it was a certainty what with Jacksonville's school boards friendliness to charters, though that did not stop CUSA from hedging its bets and donating thousands to Mandarin’s school board representative, Jason Fischer.  
Nobody on the Charter School at Mandarin’s board is from Jacksonville and its sister school the Charter School at Regency would have been an F school this past year if it wasn’t protected by states rule that schools can drop only one letter grade. A rule co-created by Gary Chartrand the local businessman who brought the KIPP charter school to town who likewise has benefited from the rule. I mention these two things because similar things happened in Orange and Hillsborough counties and they are fighting in the courts against the expansion of CUSA in their school districts. They have to fight in the courts because despite their objections Gary Chartrand and the state board of education, none of who are true educators, but consists of a citrus grower, grocer and cable TV executive instead, rubber-stamped the approval of the charter schools. 
So much for local control right?
Jonathan Hage the CEO of CUSA and husband of the executive that wrote the Sun Sentinel, even though he lives in Florida and does the vast bulk of his business here has registered the company in Delaware where CUSA operates zero schools. Then even though he only operates 58 schools with a little over 50,000 students, he lives in a 1.8 million dollar house, owns a 350 thousand dollar yacht named Fishing for Schools and sends his children to an exclusive private school. His salary was unavailable but I have heard estimates of up to 3.6 million dollars.
By comparison Duval’s superintendent Vitti who runs 176 schools with 119 thousand students, makes 275 thousand dollars, lives in a 180 thousand dollar condo (I checked his financial disclosure forms) sends his children to public school and doesn’t own a yacht. 
Furthermore the three closest schools to where it will open up were all A schools last year so there was hardly a need to rescue kids from failing public schools.
Finally CUSA is a big player in the lobby game sending thousands of dollars to mostly republican legislators. My main problem with this is they undoubtedly use public money because remember they get their money from the public, to lobby for more public money.
Is this what you envision when you hear the words charter schools? A lucrative profit center for a couple who won’t even send their own kids to one of thier schools. It is obvious what Sherry Hage envisions.

Gary Chartrand donates to 3 SB races none in his home town

Gary Chartrand lives in Ponte Vedra Florida which is in St. Johns County. Like in Duval there are three school board races, unlike in Duval, Chartrand has donated to none of them.  In fact in St. Johns County SB races aren't big business like they are here. The seven candidates there have raised collectively around 24,000 dollars or about 6,000 less than Chartrand's pick in  District 4 Darryl Willie alone.

This pro-privatization millionaire isn't interested in buying races in the town he lives in but in Jacksonville he is trying to collect them like stamps.

Is the Jacksonville Public Education Fund trying to buy the school board?

It sure looks like it!
First Six board members of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund donated to Darryl Willie's campaign and 5 of them donated to Couch and Shines campaigns too. 

Daryl Willie
Cindy Edelman and her husband 2,000 dollars.
John Baker, 1,000 dollars
Gary Chardrand, his wife Nancy and daughter Meredith, 2,500 dollars
Poppy Clements and her husband 2,000 dollars
Cleve Warren, 255 dollars
Deloris Weaver's husband and son, 1,500 dollars

Scott Shine
The Clements 500
The Weavers 1000
Baker 500
The Chartrands 500
The Edelmans 1000 
They just got on the Shine band wagon, more money is bound to come

Becky Couch (who doesn't even have an opponent) 
The Clements, 2000
The Weavers, 3000
Baker. 1000
The Chartrands 1500
The Edelmans 1000

I hope we all see the conflict of interest here. The line between the JPEF and the School District is becoming increasingly blurred what with them running numerous activities and managing tens of millions of dollars through the Quality Education for All initiative.  The same people above also donated heavily to Ashley Smith Juarez in 2012 and helped her get elected. If the JPEF has a quorum of school board members what couldn't they do? 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A lack of accountability wth Vouchers hurt our most vulnerable students

From the Sun Sentinel Editorial board

Florida hands out tens of millions of dollars in vouchers to help students with learning disabilities attend private schools.

Hold your applause. There's a catch. There's always a catch.

State law provides no requirement — thus no incentive — for these schools to actually offer specialized services for learning disabled students. And nobody from state or local government ever checks to see if their needs are being met.
Call it an oversight if lawmakers forgot to create standards for schools that receive these vouchers, known as McKay Scholarships. But call it unforgivable if they fail to fix the charade.

Taxpayers pay good money to help students with learning disabilities get the help they need to succeed, and we expect those paid-for services to be delivered — not requested or hoped for — whether in public or private schools.

Last year, the Department of Education doled out $18.1 million in vouchers to help 2,500 Broward students attend a private school, Sun Sentinel reporter Dan Sweeney recently reported. These vouchers ranged from $4,100 to nearly $20,000 per child. Throw in another $8.5 million for 1,232 students in Palm Beach County, and you see we're not talking about small change.

The results are painfully predictable: Of the 138 private schools in Broward County, Sweeney found at least 83 do not employ full-time special education teachers. Many don't even have a tutor on campus. In Palm Beach County, at least 28 of the 59 private schools do not.

And why would they?

Why would for-profit businesses — yes, even those in the field of education — use their own staff, resources and time to provide complex and costly services when taxpayer-backed checks keep coming if they don't? If there's no consequence for failing to deliver, why change?

The ones paying the price are students in need of extra help, and their parents, who are pooling their money with state vouchers to try to help their children.

"If someone wants to pay for a school that has no standards out of their own pocket, they're free to do that. This is America," says Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder of public advocacy group Fund Education Now. "But when you're taking public dollars and you're putting them into these private schools that are not regulated and have no obligation to meet the same standards that we impose on our public schools, that's when the public should become concerned."

The state's response? Hands-off, essentially. Buyer beware.

"If a parent of an eligible special needs student is unhappy with a private school," said Cheryl Etters, a spokesperson for the DOE, "they may choose to transfer the student to another participating private school or a public school."

Better than asking parents to bounce their children from school to school, state officials should ensure schools that take public money for special-needs kids provide the services needed by special-needs kids.

If accountability is good enough for public schools, it's good enough for private schools that receive public money.

"These are some of our most fragile students and they deserve proper education and support," Oropeza says. "It would be criminal if they're not getting it."

Duval County surplusses 700 teachers

That friends is an unprecedented number. That's friends is also ten percent of the teachers in the city. Holy lack of stability Batman. Most of these teachers don't know where they will end up yet especially the ones administratively surplussed from the QEA (Duval's doomed attempt to bring our best teachers to our most struggling schools) schools.

I talked to an assistant principal at an elementary school and she said they had taken in three transfers and hired one new teacher until Human Resources nixed the acquisitions because the surplus list was to big and schools needed to pull from that instead. That's even more lives upended though I guess most of them will be better off than the three hundred security guards and secretaries which are about to be let go.

Does it seem like we are going forward or backwards to you?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Duval County is a penny wise but a pound foolish

By Greg Sampson

When A School System Runs on Dollars and Cents (or no-cents) Can You Think of the Pun? 

I signed up to teach summer school. It was not for the money; after three years as an instructional coach, I felt the need to be a teacher again to remain authentic in my work with teachers. I wanted the struggle: how can I deliver a year’s worth of instruction, day after day, to engage and motivate struggling learners to make progress and find success?

After eight days, I was surplused. That’s the way it works in Duval County and across the nation: too few students, why let two teachers work with ten and nine students apiece when we can combine this into one class, one teacher, nineteen students, that’s an efficient use of resources, right?

I can’t argue with that. And, since I didn’t need the money, I can easily enjoy vacation rather than work.

BUT, this is what I want you to think about. This method of “doing business” is detrimental to students.

They don’t understand why they lose their teachers. Students are like puppies; they form an emotional attachment to their first teacher of the year/term. You can move them to a new one, but it’s never the same.

 My students were not happy yesterday when I went to the school to talk to them and explain the situation.
You see, I do more than teach math; I teach students how to be successful in life. To get summer school students to buy into the process, I talked to them about why their presence, when they would rather hang with their friends, would help them. It was not only about getting that last core credit to move to high school; I would help them position themselves so they would succeed in their next course—algebra.

You know, the one course that has the requirement to pass the state EOC or else they can’t graduate with a high school diploma.

They believed me. We were moving. But now, the surplus.

Duval County Public Schools is penny-wise and pound foolish. What is the cost of a couple of thousand dollars of salary versus the societal cost of students who give up because they come to believe the system is against them?

The Superintendent arrived promising a new way of work and a new way of doing things. But all I see is the same ol’, same ol’. New players; same game.

No one who has a management position of importance, or an oversight position (yeah, that’s you, Board members), seems to understand the psychological distress inflicted on students when they lose the teacher they liked and believed in. 

How long has DCPS been in existence? They can’t statistically predict student populations and decide on appropriate staffing levels before a year/term begins? They can’t make the necessary teacher movements over the summer? They have to wait to conduct head counts the first two weeks of school, take another two to four weeks to make adjustments—so that we really don’t get started on a new school year until OCTOBER 1?

And then they talk endlessly about being data driven. Really—seriously?

Our students deserve better.

Duval County initiates a hiring freeze.

From DTU: 1.     Transformation School Displacement, Surplus, and Voluntary Transfer: The DCPS Human Resources Department is trying to place a high volume of employees that have either been surplussed from all worksites or who have received administrative transfers or the ability to opt out from Transformation schools.  The majority of these employees are in the teacher unit. There are approximately 700 teachers that must be placed. Because of this, there is a hiring freeze for DCPS.

That's a lot of teachers being moved around, some of who may ultimately lose their jobs because of the QEA transfers, influx of Teach for America and the districts new class size policy where they decided paying a fine was better and cheaper than trying to meet the requirements. Then consider the three hundred security guards and secretaries who are being straight up let go. That's a thousand people and their families whose lives to some degree or another are being messed with.

I just imagine things being run differently and better. How about you?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Where does Jason Fischer think the money is going to come from or just how out of touch is he? Updated

From the Times Union when talking about Vitti’s proposal for a technology bond:  Jason Fischer, another board member, said he believes in Vitti’s high-tech vision but he wonders if there are better ways to pay for it than via a general revenue bond, including finding money in the district’s regular budget.

Um, hundreds of people are losing their jobs this year as the district guts its secretarial and security pool. That’s on the street with no benefits to pay for Vitti’s plans, plans that Fischer has voted for.

If there is money being wasted, a duplication of services that could be stopped or a bad a plan out there then I wish Fischer would bring it to our attention. 

Fischer is taking the notion that being a school board is a part time gig to all new heights. His out of touchness (yes I know I just made up that word) is stunning. 

Update: I received the following note from Mr. Fischer and as someone who has been misquoted/taken out of contest by the TU, I find what he says completely plausible, I do however also disagree with Mr. Fischer and think the time is right and the need is great for a bond. 

The TU never called me about the story. They are referencing a brief conversation that happened at a workshop over a month and a half ago. The fact is that we didn't have a detailed conversation around this issue. There was strong push back against the idea of doing a bond. I very specifically said that the public was not ready for a bond, and that I was against raising taxes.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

High expectations and testing can cure disabilities

I am sorry friends I don't have the energy to tackle any more of Arne "I never taught a day in my life but somehow I am the secretary of education" Duncan's ridiculous and complete misunderstanding of education and teachers but here are a few pieces about him believing high expectations and testing can cure disabilities,  from a couple people that did.

From Curmudgucation

Arne Duncan announced that, shockingly, students with disabilities do poorly in school. They perform below level in both English and math. No, there aren't any qualifiers attached to that. Arne is bothered that students with very low IQs, students with low function, students who have processing problems, students who have any number of impairments-- these students are performing below grade level.

"We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel," Duncan said. (per NPR coverage)

And I'm pretty sure we don't know any such thing. I'm pretty sure that the special needs students in schools across the country are special needs precisely because they have trouble meeting the usual expectations. 

From NPR

And yet, Duncan said, most states are doing exactly what the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has required until now. School districts are required to create an "individualized education plan," or IEP, tailored to a student's needs. 

School officials must show that these children are getting instructional support in a timely manner and that they have full access to the curriculum and everything else that goes on in school. 

Under the new guidelines, Duncan says he'll require proof that these kids aren't just being served but are actually making academic progress.

Um aren''t just being served but are actually making academic progress, I guess my magic wand and fairy dust will be arriving any moment now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Vitti just can’t help insulting his staff.

I know Vitti has a high opinion of himself just look at last years self-evaluation which said he could all but walk on water. There is a fine line between hubris and confidence and sadly he obliterated it.

Also where he is very confident in his own abilities that seems to be where it ends (except inexplicably with Iranetta Wright and the Mason brothers that is) as he went on to insult our principal group in the paper today and so soon after insulting the districts teachers too.

He told the TUs editorial board that we don’t have a great principal in every school (gee I wonder which ones he is talking about) and we have a lot of work to do to shore up our schools leadership.

Now don’t get me wrong, I and many people in the district felt for years who you knew not your ability determined a lot of promotions and there were way to many lateral moves for admins not getting the job done but there is a difference me writing about it on my blog and the super announcing it to the editorial board buit worse of all what’s changed?!? Seriously Vicki Shultz just running a high school and Addison Davis and Wright running regions???  New boss same as the old boss, well except super Ed didn’t feel the need to insult his staff constantly. 

The Times Union's lover affair with Vitti begins in 3,2...

Mike Clark, one of the Times Union editors wrote: Nikolai Vitti acknowledges that he has made a massive number of principal changes in the large urban school district. He has replaced about half of the principals in Duval County's 160 schools since taking over about 18 months ago.

But he has not done this without thought. On the contrary, he has carefully placed administrators back in schools and shifted principals to places they can be successful.

Um, how does he know that? Sounds more like his opinion? In fact how do any of us know he isn't just throwing darts at a board or listening to the wrong voices?

I know a lot of teachers who are very surprised about many of his moves especially his top admin moves.

I write this not to bash but the TU has to be careful. The TU had a love relationship with Ed Pratt and the district languished because of it and he stayed much longer than he should have and if they do the same and give Vitti a pass we will languish again. Every move he makes should be scrutinized and to do less does the city a disservice. In other words instead of blowing smoke up his a** they should do their bleeping job.

MSNBC’s Morning Joe once again shows their anti teacher bias.

They had Campbell Brown on to discuss bringing California style justice to NY and how she planned to sue NY teachers over work protections. She said, while she doesn’t disagree with the effects of poverty, teachers are the number one in school factor and have to be dealt with and implied since there is nothing we can do about poverty teachers make an easier target.

Mica Brezinski, whose ambien must have been working over time, seemed to agree and said, it’s to bad we have to be busy with the “extreme cases that show the whole system is as ridiculous as it is.” un what, you rarely see the words extreme cases and whole system in a sentence, a coherent one that is.

Dr. Jeffery Sachs the Director of the Earth Institute, the con to Browns pro teacher bashing, tried to say we should take a holistic rather than blame approach but the poor guy wasn’t allowed to finish a sentence and in fact after being interrupted several times and while trying to answer a question was told, please don’t interrupt me by the little guy with glasses who agreed that teaching quality was a big problem.

There was nothing about how the Vergera ruling was made based on made up testimony, how the teachers in the case were actually fairly accomplished and how a couple of the kids went to charter schools.

I don’t mind discussions about the issue, and Chris Hayes the 8 pm host is doing some good work bringing up the problems in education, because we should always be striving to make the profession and education better but this wasn’t a discussion this was a “teachers suck and our hurting our kids” segment, a segment they seem to have a lot of.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

When morale is down and attrition is high, one must choose their words carefully, a lesson Superintendent Vitti would be wise to learn.

This isn’t just coming from me. Morale is down, Vitti and the new board having squandered their “hey we’re not the old super and board” bounce, and attrition is high even among those that aren’t surplussed for some often BS reason or another.

Which makes me wonder why the super takes seemingly every opportunity possible to bash the staff. He did so in last weeks study by the teacher hating group The New Teacher Project and in an article about the new teacher residency program. Through sifting through all the negative one truth rang through and that was veteran teachers matter.

Not by using TFA, not with this handful he brings in through the teacher residency program and not by surplussing or firing teachers are we going to turn this around. The only way we are going to do that is by engaging and supporting the staff, another lesson the super would be wise to learn.

Did superintendent just insult teachers everywhere?

In a WJCT piece about the teacher residency program, proving once again experience matters, the superintendent is quoted saying,   “We’re trying to build a bench or a bring people like you, who are bright and that don’t have to be teachers, that have that STEM-background knowledge to really provide to our most fragile and vulnerable students what they’re not receiving on a day-to-day basis,”

Is he implying that teachers are teachers because that’s the only gig they can get? How about being bright, it’s as if he has to sfit through all the regular dregs to find this handful. Then yeah I guess he thinks our most vulnerable aren’t getting what they need now from the dolts we have teaching them now.

I could be reading it wrong I guess but after some of his other statements, like the TNTP report, saying we have a lot of terrible teachers, was right on, I am not so sure.

But here is the thing if I even have to consider he’s being insulting he’s lost me and an untold amount of others and if he loses the staff the city loses big time.

To read the WJCT piece, click the link:

Charter school operator complains about separate and unequal school system. What the Beep!!!!!!

In an example of rarely reached chutzpah a principal of a Palm Beach charter school complained that money from a tax referendum to pay for the arts was not going to charter schools.

From the Palm Beach Post: The school board on Wednesday night unanimously reworded the ballot to say the money is only for non-charter district schools and declined to give charters any money despite the pleas of officials like Bright Futures Academy charter Principal Henry DiGiacinto.
“The consequence of this referendum, the passage as written, is to ratify another four years of ‘separate but unequal education,’” DiGiacinto said.

First good job Palm Beach school board and second WTF. Public schools don’t pick who they take and keep, public schools don’t council out poor performers and you can be damn sure nobody is getting rich and living in million dollar houses working at public schools too.

In Florida we for years have had a separate and unequal school system which favors charters over public schools and despite that public schools routinely kick their asses!

Second good job Palm beach school board if only more school boards stuck up for their schools, mine sure doesn’t, things would be better.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The last thing vouchers are here to do is help poor and mostly minority children!

What happened to vouchers being here to save poor and mostly minority children from failing public schools, an overblown talking point if there ever was one? The voucher expansion now allows for partial scholarships to families making over 62,000 dollars. How many of those families need to flee a failing public school but instead might want to flee common core or to get a religious education for their children? My bet is a more than a few.

Voucher expansion has nothing to do with helping poor and mostly minority children and just look at this years deep cuts to Bright Future scholarships which according to the federal government disproportionately hurt poor and mostly minority students as proof of that and all to do with kneecapping and hastening the privatization of public education.

Finally why is accountability and common core only required for public schools when private schools that receive public money are exempt? That should tall you all you need to know about the importance of both those things to our legislators in Tallahassee. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

In Florida, it's listen to the parents, unless they are public school parents.

Whether you call it a juxtapositions, cognitive dissonance or just a plain pathological hatred of public schools it's all the same as Tallahassee and Governor Scott lost all credibility when he signed SB 805 expanding vouchers into law.

First lets forget how vouchers obliterate the first amendment as 90 percent go to religious schools, they don't have to have recognized curriculums, certified teachers, despite being able to pick who they take and keep don't perform better than public schools and Slate magazine reports over 150 teach creationism as science. Instead lets just look at how Scott and the republican legislature twisted themselves into knots to approve it.

He and the republican legislature have said they are for both common core (though now they are calling it the Florida Standards) and for accountability, unless that is your child goes to a private school that accepts vouchers because those kids are exempt from both.

They say they want to save poor and mostly minority children from attending failing public schools, ironic because they have refused to put measures in place to see if the private school the student would go to is failing or not but they also have dramatically cut funding to Bright Futures which the federal government says will disproportionately hurt poor and mostly minority students. This makes me think they are more interested in hurting public schools than helping poor and mostly minority children.

Then they say they need to listen to the parents of children who take vouchers which admittedly may number in the tens of thousands but then at the same tome they feel it is okay to ignore the millions of parents in the Parent Teacher Association the NAACP, the teachers’ unions, and the League of United Latin American Citizens who all asked the governor to veto the bill. Sadly they have been ignoring these groups for years as they have called for an end to the reliance on high stakes testing and for Tallahassee to adequately fund public education as well.

Finally voucher expansion means giving more money to Step up for Students which admitted they keep the numbers on their waiting list on the back of an envelope and who has given public money to legislators in an effort to get even more public money. Why isn't this organization under investigation or indictment?

I believe vouchers aren't here to help children, instead they are part of a plan to systematically knee cap public schools, something if the education reformers/voucher proponents tried to do in well fell swoop people would rally against. Instead they are doing it piecemeal hoping public schools will die the death of a thousand cuts before anybody really notices. Regardless, without accountability measures, vouchers are a bad deal and I hope the public remembers it come November.


Is Florida cutting Bright Future scholarships to expand Vouchers?

From Scathing Purple Musings by Bob Sykes

While PolitiFact dispatched Nan Rich’s claim that Florida’s new expansion of school vouchers takes $3 billion a way from public education (Scathing Purple Musings takes this position, too) they didn’t argue with her number. They disagreed with Rich’s accounting and that her assertion that the figure was part of state revenues was a fair one.
Perhaps PolitiFact might be persuaded to consider that voucher expansion has taken funding away from Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarship Program. South Dade Newsleader’s Larry Diehl  interviewed Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami) who explained the cuts and their ramifications:
“What happened to Bright Futures?” asked State Senator Dwight Bullard.
The Senator sought attention to the legislative cuts approved in this year’s state education budget. The Scholarship program was funded for $266.2 million in the budget, down from the $309.4 million approved for 2013-2014.
Created with Lottery funding in 1997, the merit-based scholarship program is designed to have bright Florida high school seniors earn a subsidy to stay in Florida for college. Eligibility is based on grades, community service and ACT or SAT test scores. The program grew from awards to about 42,000 students costing $70 million to today’s totals.
About 154,160 students participated last year with average awards of $2,007 each, according to the Florida Department of Education. The program expects 127,573 students to qualify this year.
“The students most impacted by these cuts are African-Americans and Latinos,” Bullard said. “We say enough is enough.”
Republican rhetoric to support expansion of vouchers is based upon what it does for African-American and Latino families. Their decision to cut Bright Futures discredits their supposed concerns. Looks like its republicans this time who are choosing winners and losers.

Spoiler alert, Teach for America loving group says Teach for America is great.

I love cheesecake; I completed a study that said cheesecake is both good for my figure and low in calorie. My conclusion, eat more cheesecake. That’s essentially Miami Dades Teach for America study and it’s probably just as reliable as my cheesecake study too.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded both TFA and the study conducted by the American Institute for Research. You know the same group who was responsible for the disastrous VAM scores and who have chosen to field-test our next round of standardized test questions in Utah. I personally wouldn’t go to them to ask for anything more important than the time of day and couple that with a TFA loving foundation bankrolling the study and I am very skeptical.

I personally don’t understand how any district would prefer to have Teach for America which produces both churn and prevents people who may be professional teachers and make education a career from filling those slots in any classroom. Furthermore I can’t imagine a parent picking a Teach for America recruit without an education degree, who has five weeks of training and who will only stay for two years over a professional teacher either. Putting professional teachers in all our classrooms should be our goal. However since a handful of really rich people like Teach for America I guess we will continue to experiment with our children.

We should want to know how Teach for America is doing in our schools but we should take this study with more than a few grains of salt, more like a salt mines worth.   

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Times Union prints its annual KIPP puff piece.

I can't link you to the piece because I am not in the Times Union's special little club but suffice to say it oozed accolades. It did mention something of note though. Of the 88 members of the first class only 64 made it to the end. That may be nothing as kids routinely matriculate out, the problem here is KIPP has a reputation for "counseling out" poor performers.

The piece as you can imagine left out several important facts.

The first year the grade was the worst in North East Florida, the second it "miraculously" improved to a B, something that in the real world doesn't really happen that often, then it's third year the grade would have dropped to a D if it wasn't protected by the states ridiculous rule, pushed by Gary Chartrand who paid for the school to come to town, that prevents schools from dropping more than one grade. Then this year despite the fact KIPP spends more than public schools do, its scores  were far from world beating. 

Are there good things going on at KIPP and if so why aren't they being replicated at the exclusive prep schools? To be honest I don't know. I have my doubts but wouldn't it be nice if the Times Union did some real reporting and let us know?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Voucher proponents pushing for bill passage

There was a big battle over vouchers this past spring, which may be coming to an end as a Bill sits on the governor’s desk waiting for his signature. At the beginning of the legislative session voucher proponents were offered the keys to the treasury and all they had to give up in return was take some legitimate accountability measures, instead of doing so, they fought tooth and nail against them. That should have been the end of the story right there but sadly it is not.

The bill which had more lives than a cat seemingly died several times until an unprecedented last day move tacked an amendment consisting of some modest voucher expansions to a very popular bill that had already passed.  

Now the Heartland Institute is weighing in in the Orlando Sentinel, pushing for vouchers and using some dubious information to sell their side.  Lets forget for a second vouchers obliterate the second amendment as 90 percent of them are allocated to religious schools, their teachers are not required to have degrees or any type of certification, and that over 150 teach creationism as science and tackle the claim that they are saving the state money.

The program is funded through corporate tax-deductible donations. Well friends that is money that is not going into the state coffers which pay for many services besides education. The truth is the state treasury is losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars. Now yes vouchers are worth less than what we pay per pupil but just because districts have fewer pupils that does not mean they have smaller overheads. Superintendents all throughout the state are bemoaning the loss of resources to charter and voucher schools.

Then there is the notion that a hundred thousand students have applied for vouchers. How do we know that number is accurate? John East the president of Step up for Students said he kept the numbers on the back of an envelop and second the right should not be able to create a crisis and then benefit off of it. For years now they have been demonizing teachers and deriding public schools and now they have introduced a set of standards Common Core that has many parents who would never think of vouchers concerned. Common core is being sold as making Florida’s students more competitive worldwide but strangely enough private schools that take vouchers are exempt. I guess the state doesn’t really care about those kids.

Joy Pullman then finally says let’s listen to the parents. Well friends why are we supposed to listen only to the parents who want vouchers. Why does the state feel it can ignore all the parents who have come out against common core, the states grading system, it’s reliance on high stakes testing and inconsistent and inadequate funding? Parents that number in the millions. Why and how can they be ignored? I submit if they weren’t ignored the Florida voucher program would go away and the state of education would be greatly improved.

Vouchers without strict accountability are a bad deal even if a few parents have been persuaded to take them. The answer is to fix the ills in our public school system, many of which were created by the proponents of vouchers who now seek to profit off the crisis they created.

The National Center for Teacher Quality blasts Florida’s teacher preparedness colleges.

They would have you believe the sky is falling but the truth is they are paid to make you think the sky is falling. They are funded by the Gates foundation and their advisory board looks like a whose who from the corporate reform movement and it’s one of those members that should tell you all you need to now.

Wendy Kopp is on the advisory board and also started Teach for America. Teach for America takes non-education grads and puts them through a five-week boot camp before placing them in out neediest classrooms.

How can the NCTQ have a problem with Florida’s teacher colleges but shrug their shoulders at one of their own members who is doing the exact opposite of what we know to be best for our children? The truth is they couldn’t if this was a legitimate organization. Another truth is it isn’t. Their goal is to make people scared about public education so the people that fund them can profit off the privatization and destruction of labor that will follow.

Are there issues in education? Yes undoubtedly but the same people who seek to dismantle and profit off of it have caused many of them. We need to get serious about fixing the issues and step one should be ignoring groups like the NCTQ, which solely exists to clutter the issues.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Demonizing teachers and attacks on public schools are alive and well in 2014!

To read more, click the link: 

Crist would work to appeal Senate Bill 736

From the Tampa Times, by Kathleen McGrory
Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist plans to make education the focus of his campaign, he said Monday.
To make his point, the Republican turned Democrat held a roundtable discussion with teachers in Tallahassee on Monday -– and then asked one of them to deliver his qualifying paperwork to the Florida Department of State.
"What this campaign is going to be about, first and foremost, is making sure we have someone in the governor's mansion [who] understands how precious education is and how important it is to honor our teachers and not demoralize the heck out of them," Crist said.
The thirteen teachers who attended the roundtable hailed mostly from the Florida Panhandle. They opened the conversation by thanking Crist for his veto of a controversial teacher performance pay bill in 2010.
Crist called it "an honor" to veto the proposal, SB 6 in the 2010 session.
"It was exciting," he said. "It got unexciting because the next year, Rick Scott signed the bill. But we are going to undo it."
Repealing the law would be a heavy lift. The Republican-dominated legislature has been supportive of performance pay for teachers, as have influential think tanks. But Crist said he would have bargaining power after winning office.
"If we win, they will consider things because I will have a [veto] pen again," he said.
Later, Crist blasted the turnover at the state Department of Education. "It's like a revolving door of idiocy," he said. 
He also accused Scott of spending too little on education given the recent surplus.
The budget Scott recently inked sets aside $18.9 billion for education, the largest amount in state history. But the per-pupil funding level, $6,937, still falls short of the $7,126 spent per student in 2007-08.
"He talks about jobs all the time," Crist said of his opponent. "But he won’t lay the groundwork so people can get them."
Scott's campaign was quick to fire back.
"Most of us realize that no matter how many times you repeat a lie, you can’t make it true," campaign spokesman Greg Blair said in a statement. "Not Charlie Crist. The unfortunate truth for him is that he left K-12 schools in a worse financial position than when he entered office while Gov. Scott has provided record funding for schools and $480 million for teacher pay raises."
Blair added: "At this rate, Charlie Crist will soon try to convince Floridians that the earth is flat."
Crist has already won the endorsement of the Florida Education Association, the state teachers union.
Arecia Shelton, a guidance counselor at Fairview Middle in Leon County, said she would rally her colleagues to support Crist's bid for governor.
"You earned the respect of teachers," she told him Monday.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Moody’s the credit rating group gives a big middle finger to teachers.

How after nearly destroying the world during the mortgage crisis are they still in business? I mean really shouldn’t they be in jail or something?

Oy vey friends, the skinny is they said getting rid of tenure, i.e. teacher work protections would give a boost to school districts credit ratings.

From California's public schools would benefit financially if last week's Superior Court ruling striking down teacher tenure laws is upheld, credit rating agency Moody's said in a note published Monday.
"The ruling is credit positive for school districts because greater employment flexibility will lead to increased budgetary flexibility," the note said. 

Or as we all know what is happening, fewer experienced teachers will lead to savings.


Chris Hayes blows the Vergera ruling out of the water. Chief statistic used made up out of thin air.

I will post the video when I can but the gist is the ruling stripping teachers of work protections happened because the judge was aghast that an expert said one to three percent of California’s teachers were grossly ineffective. Yes let’s feel free to blow the entire system because of one to three percent of teachers were grossly ineffective, (hmm I wonder how many judges are grossly ineffective, I can think of at least one) but that’s now what is so shocking.

Chris Hayes reported that a reporter from Slate contacted the so-called expert and asked were the stat came from. The expert, and sit down first or swallow that milk, then told the reporter, he made it up out of thin air. It had come from him just visiting a lot of classrooms and to make matters worse he said, he never said they were grossly ineffective. 

This is what teachers are fighting against. Facts and evidence don’t matter to the education reformers as they rush to destroy the teaching profession. 

Here is a link to the slate article: 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The district blows six hundred grand on a study that blames teachers for poverty.

Let me give you some scale. Six hundred grand could have paid the salary for about ten social workers for a year who could have serviced hundreds of our neediest kids. We could have used that money to really make a difference but instead we hired a blame the teacher organization that came up with a blame the teacher study.

Let me now tackle their incomprehensible logic.

First they never use the word poverty when describing our schools preferring to use the words "high need" but ignoring poverty is nothing new. After all if they didn't ignore poverty they couldn't very well blame teachers.

The study says: High-need schools lose top teachers at higher rates and hire lower-performing teachers to replace those who leave.

By lower performing they mean new and inexperienced though I think I should point out that the district exacerbates this problem by relying on Teach for America. Most of these teachers at these "high need" schools if given the support and put in positions were success is possible will develop into great teachers over time, sadly however that is not what usually happens.

So the study itself says inexperienced and new teachers don't do as well as experienced ones but that doesn't stop the study from saying: 

In Duval County, there is no difference between the pay of the most and least effective teachers. The largest raises go to teachers with 20 years or more experience.

Most annual step increases are less than 3 percent until teachers are higher on the salary schedule, the study showed.

That means a highly effective teacher relatively new to the district will make less, sometimes a lot less, than a lower-performing veteran teacher.

Over a teacher’s 24-year career, $173,926 to $292,357 of total compensation will be based on seniority and advanced degrees. That money could be reallocated to provide capital for performance-based compensation, according to the study.

But wait a minute the study just said new and inexperienced teachers don't do as well as experienced ones. The authors of the study, The New Teacher Project, who are part of the corporate reform movement, which derides, experience, education and tenure obviously think they can have their cake and eat it too.

The truth is experience and education matter no matter how you slice it so why can't they see that and why is the super giving the study, "high marks"?

It is because the TNTP and the super do not respect teachers, they don't know nor do they appreciate all that they do and that is where we find ourselves and until something changes, until the super wants to work with teachers instead of merrily giving high marks to a study that slams teachers we will continue to have our issues. 

The good news is we can turn this around; respect teachers, put them in places where they can succeed have academic and behavioral supports for both them and children. The bad news is we have an admin and super in place that would rather spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a blame the teacher study instead of using that money to help our teachers and kids. 



Superintendnet Vitti sticks a stake in the heart of teacher morale.

It's no secret that poor teacher morale has been a problem here in Jacksonville. The superintendent has mentioned it as well as various school board members. So what does the super say when a study comes out excoriating, I mean really slamming the districts teachers? Well according tot he Times Union he gives it, high marks.

Not something nuanced like, it gives the district a lot to think about, or something that stands up for our teachers like, the district has a lot of great teachers and we just have to put more in places where they can succeed. Nope nothing like that. Instead he gives it a toothy grinning thumbs up. He might as well have said, yeah I know a lot of our teachers suck and this study just proves it.

It's to bad he hasn't given the district's teachers a chance to evaluate him.

Gee, I feel a lot better knowing the superintendent thinks most of us suck, it really helps my morale, how about yours?

To read the piece clink the link:

Why does Duval County hate its teachers so?

First let me apologize on behalf of all the teachers in Jacksonville to all the citizens of Jacksonville. From the bottom of my heart I am sorry that we can’t completely overcome the effects of poverty and we all know that over 20 percent of our kids live in poverty and poverty is the number one measurable factor in education, those that live in it don’t do as well as those that don’t.

I am sorry that we haven’t been able to reach our full potential in the face of the capricious and usually ineffective management that has plagued this district for years. Are there good principals and admins in our district, yes there are but to many have reached their position because of whom they know rather than what they can do.

I am also sorry that we couldn’t convince the people of Jacksonville to elect school board members who are knowledgeable about public education, who care about public education and who will fight for public education or the exact opposite of many of this lot we have in charge now.

Finally I am sorry that the legislature many of you have voted for has saw fit to slash budgets, and don’t believe the hype about the recent budget increase, we are still way below 2007 levels and that doesn’t count paying for all the new unfunded mandates and common core, and who would prefer to send money to the sub standard options of charter schools, which as a group perform worse than public schools and voucher schools who as a group we have no idea how they are doing because the state refuses to put any accountability onto to them and finally who have embraced common core an untested experimental curriculum that does not address poverty, that doubles down on high stakes testing and which siphons hundreds of millions of dollars out of the classrooms where it is desperately needed. 

I am sincerely sorry for all of that.

The New Teacher Project (TNTP) study about teacher quality should be taken with a grain of salt. Started by Michelle Rhee who has long had negative feelings about teachers, their stated position is if districts fire enough teachers then districts will improve. They call it the Widget effect. I guess it is also just by chance that the TNTP provides a service for a fee that will find what they call qualified teachers to work for districts. I wonder how long it is before we employ those services too. I could have told you their conclusions before they even started and I imagine Vitti could have as well and that is why he picked them

I believe Vitti wanted a group to come in and back up his assessment that Jacksonville’s professional teachers weren’t doing the job. This is also backed up by his reliance on Teach for America, which takes non-education recent graduates puts them through a five week boot cam and then puts them in our neediest classrooms or the exact opposites of what we know to be best practices. Well by picking the TNTP, a very biased group that most districts would not even consider using, he got it.

As for the TNTP recommendations about teacher pay, the truth is there are some great new teachers that hit the ground running and some veteran teachers that have stayed to long but what they don’t mention is that the numbers in both groups are small. The study doesn’t mention that teaching is a craft that people grow into and get better with experience but despite that they recommend blowing up the entire system. The reason the entire study reads like a passage in the corporate reformers playbook is because that’s where it came from.  

We do have problems here in Jacksonville, serious problems and we need serious people to solve them. The TNTP study however doesn’t point us in the right direction and it shouldn’t be used a blue print to solve our issues. If our superintendent were a serious person he would know that. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Vergera case is not about ending tenure it's about destroying labor. (rough draft)

It’s not about tenure, it’s about destroying labor.

Please don’t think for a moment that the Vergera court case in California was about doing what is best for teachers. No, it was all about destroying labor as are most of the education reforms being implemented.

The plaintiffs backed by a silicon valley billionaire claimed that teacher work protections, including tenure, were detrimental and unfair to poor and mostly minority students. How the judge came to agree is an assault to the senses.

If first year or relatively new teachers are cut before more experienced teachers that is not only tragic but it is not the fault of teacher unions either. Unions do not set budgets nor do they let teachers go. Yet instead of blaming politicians who seem to always cut education first, they somehow blamed work protections for more experienced teachers and this judge either bought it or was bought.  

Education reformers would have you believe you can separate the relationship between teacher and student but the truth is you can’t. They are symbiotic, they depend on each other to exist. Policies like ignoring discipline and cutting budgets hurt both children and teachers alike as does destroying work protections for teachers. This hurts teachers for the obvious reasons but it also hurts students too because as the teaching profession becomes more and more unappealing fewer qualified people will enter and stay. Who will teach our kids when they make the profession so unappealing that professionals won't want to do it? 

We are all saddened when talented new teachers are cut but the truth is it often takes years for teachers to grow into being effective. Now are there some rookie teachers that hit the road running and some veteran teachers that have stayed to long? Of course but the truth is the numbers for each group are small.  Furthermore if there is a veteran teacher not doing their job then that isn’t the fault of unions or work protections either. That’s the fault of an administration that is not doing its job.

Does it take time and documentation and sometimes even money to get rid of an ineffective teacher? Again sure but that’s the way it is in any profession and I remind you that the procedures are mutually agreed upon between unions and administrations. Unions do not dictate to localities.

Ed Reformers will complain “but unions use their membership to drive those procedures” as if that is a bad thing. Shouldn’t we all want our teachers to have good pay and benefits and have procedures in place to make sure they are treated fairly? Is that to much to ask of society?

The Vegera case would have you believe so but how will kneecapping the teaching profession help kids? The answer is it won't but that was never the reason behind it in the first place instead it’s about destroying the power of labor. These billionaires want to be able to make decisions, many of which they will profit off unencumbered by groups banded together to look out for their interests even when those interests are entirely intertwined with the interests of children.  

In Florida there has been a similar court case making its way through the courts. The plaintiffs not backed by a billionaire took a different direction however. Instead of blaming teachers and unions they believe its inadequate resources that are holding our schools and children back.  If we're saddened by young teachers being cut then lets not cut budgets. If we think teachers have to many work protections, negotiate but be prepared to pay more to have them give up those rights. instead of doing what is right they would have you believe Mrs. Migilicutty at the top of the pay scale at PS this or that is to blame for all the woes in education
I would like to point out that unions do not create curriculum, establish budgets, set policy nor do they hire or fire teachers. All they do and all they can do is make sure the mutually agreed upon contract language is enforced and through their membership lobby for things they feel are important. In my home state of Florida sometimes they win like with the parent trigger but more often they lose like with senate bill 736 that ties pay to how students do on standardized tests, something testing experts say is ridiculous.

The ed reformers are always talking about the needs for children. If only this were about the needs of children, it’s not and people shouldn’t think for a second it is.