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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why would the state want to classify more schools as failing? So they can privatize them is why.

John Padgett the vice-chair of the State Board of Education is pushing for tougher grading rules which would ultimately label more schools as failing. Since this failing designation does not trigger more help or more resources it makes me wonder why.

The obvious reason is privatization. Padgett and his ilk would rather replace our public schools with charter schools and more schools that take vouchers and that should concern us all, greatly.

Schools that take money for vouchers are some of the least regulated schools in the nation. They don’t have to have certified teachers, recognized curriculums, have any reasonable education accountability measures and the vast majority do not even have to report how they money they take is spent.  

Compared to charter schools however they are a success. Over three hundred charter schools have open taken public money and closed wasting tens of millions of dollars. The Stanford Credo says that as a group they don’t do as well as our public schools and most are run by for profit management companies who are more concerned with making money than educating our children.

But for some reason Padgett and much of Tallahassee think these are better options.
Then think about what having more failing schools will do to house values or the ability to attract new businesses. Somebody should be anyways as Tallassee in their zeal to privatize our schools obviously isn’t.

Shouldn’t we have people on the state board and in our legislature that want to improve our public schools instead of like Padgett who constantly want to injure them?

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Times Union’s silence about teacher’s working conditions is deafening (rough draft)

Teachers are afraid in this town, afraid that if they speak up about their working conditions their safety or a curriculum that they believe is completely inappropriate for their students then they will face consequences for their actions.

As the chief contributor to the blog Education Matters I talk to teachers quite frequently about what is happening and the two things they have in common is that they believe as a district superintendent 

Vitti is taking us in the wrong direction and they are afraid to go on the record about it.

We have all heard the saying is I have heard it once I have heard it a thousand times, well in Jacksonville that is no exaggeration, teachers fear for their jobs if they speak up and the Times Union knows it too. They however refuse to report on it.

Now they allude to it here and there when talking about other topics.

From a story about a bill that would mandate recess.
Teachers in Duval County said recently in private that they feel pressure to stay on task, even when they can tell their kids are squirming.
From an article on teaching religion to first graders
Several teachers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said students aren’t engaged in the subject matter, and because teachers are reading from a script and students don’t have books to follow along, they’re even less likely to comprehend and remember what they’re learning.
“It is tedious, repetitive and created without readers in mind,” one teacher said. “Engage NY lacks a connection to what will motivate students.”
Teachers say they’re being discouraged from slowing down lessons and from using other books.
These two examples are just from the last month. I could have easily found a dozen more mentions.
This is also a conversation I have had several times with the Times Union’s main two education reporters, Rhema Thompson and Denise Amos Smith. I have to say I think they are doing a better job than what we have had in the past but I don’t see how they can continue to ignore the story that so many teachers go to work afraid that they will lose their jobs or be messed with if they speak up and do the right thing.
We are not going to reach our potential as a district as long as we marginalize and intimidate teachers. We are not going to reach our potential as long as we ignore teachers concerns and we are not going to reach our potential as long as the district contuse to make the job of teaching so unappealing people either leave in droves or do their job out of fear not out of joy.   

The Times Union sadly knows that teachers are afraid yet they refuse to report on it which makes them culpable with the problems we are having. Their job should not be to cover for the district and sell its all is well narrative.
Let me ask you a question would you be effective at your job if you were concerned about your safety, or believed you were doing harm, or if you spoke up you would be punished? 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Does superintendent Vitti really care about play? My bet is probably not.

I am just going to get right to it.

Not just experts but most people realize that play is important for children.  

Despite setting up a system that practically eliminates the possibility of kids going out to play, the super says, but hey I wrote a memo saying teachers could take their students out.

The problem is these teachers are on such tight time constraints to do everything the district mandates that they are unable to take their kids out because they would risk falling behind and that has consequences.  

The superintendent is attempting to have his cake and eat it too and it’s wrong.

There is a bill moving through the Floirda legislature which would require kids to play and I have to say I think it is a great idea. We can’t leave our kids fates up to superintendents who think it is more important to kill and drill our kids rather than letting them be kids.

I think recess will actually lead to improved test scores because kids who hate school don’t do as well and that is what we are creating a generation of kids who hate school. We must bring the joy of learning back to our classrooms.  

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Teacher asks, what kind of public education do we want here in Jacksonville?

From a reader

As a fourth grade ELA teacher there is only one question I would like to ask DCPS administrators, teachers, and parents...Do you believe Duval Reads is building strong readers and writers?

The answer would be NO. In fact, I can quote page 253 of our 2nd quarter curriculum guide that states, "Reassure them [students] that it is okay if they do not fully understand the text..." This is a precise example of the fact that this curriculum is merely designed to teach kids how to navigate a high stakes test. In no way is this curriculum building the literacy skills that our elementary students require to truly be college and career ready.

I am often reminded of a quote by Neil Postman, "Public education does not serve a public. It creates a public." As a community, we need to ask ourselves what type of public do we want to create here in Jacksonville. 

PS: What happened to social studies? In the future, if we wonder why our population has no sense of civic duties we should absolutely look back at the point where social studies disappeared from public education.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Important questions the media should be asking about the new curriculm

From a reader:

SOMEONE still needs to ask VITTI:
1. Why are we using a curriculum that the original writers have "kicked to the curb?"

3. IS ANYONE else in the country using this curriculum?  I would be interested to know, and if so, how are their teachers adjusting it, or are they doing what we are expected to do, teach it word for word on the day the "higher ups" decide is the day to teach it.

4.  Average teachers????? What does that mean ? Why would he have "average teachers" working in Duval County? This article demonstrates his lack of confidence in the teachers working in the district.  If that is the case, what professional development has he offered beyond Teachers Academy in the summer?  We no longer have The Schultz Center to provided what is NEEDED-Vitti got rid of it.

5. The Common Core Standards DO NOT determine what is taught.  If Vitti is alluding to a perception that the 1st grade content taught through Duval Reads is part of the Common Core Standards (we actually use Florida Standards)  then he doesn't know what is in the standards.

First graders need to learn about the world around them, their family, their school , their community.  This is COMMON KNOWLEDGE AMONG EDUCATORS and why this curriculum is developmentally inappropriate. An expert on the Ammendments is not an expert on what  is appropriate for first graders to learn.  Why didn't you talk to someone who writes curriculum for 1st grade?

Did you know in third grade the books used with Duval Reads were so questionable that parents could opt out? WHY WOULD YOU EVER use books/content that could even be questioned with our youngest students?  

I am begging you to help us and our students. No grade, using Duval Reads is exempt from the disaster that looms ahead.  I am so concerned about my third graders failing the reading test because of this curriculum.  And, most will fail third grade if they do not pass the test.  It will not end this year as these 1st and 2nd graders will Not be prepared for testing in the coming years if we continue using this curriculum.

By the way, what curriculum do the highest performing districts use? I AM SURE IT IS NOT THIS ONE!

Superintendent Vitti can’t help but demean teachers

A few weeks ago, the superintendent was saying look at our NEAP scores, what we are doing isn’t just working it is working spectacularly. Forget for a moment that Duval replaced what we were doing with Engage NY the much maligned curriculum and it was teachers not him that was doing it. 

He would like you to anyways.

Yesterday when talking about Duval’s new reading curriculum the superintendent said the following about teachers and the curriculum:

“My role is to pick a curriculum that can meet the standards for what needs to be taught,” Vitti said. “I could have picked a lower level curriculum and the average teacher does not have the skill, the time or the resources to fill in the gaps. Then we’re rolling the dice to see [if] the child gets it or not.”

The first thing that caught my eye was we said that it was his role to pick the curriculum. I want to remind you that he has no expertise in this area having only been a teacher for a cup of coffee and he routinely says it was teachers that picked the new curriculum though I have been able to find none that said, yeah this is what we wanted.

Then he talks about the average teacher not being to fill in the gaps, they just don’t have the skills and there you have it. In his opinion our schools are filled with nothing but average teachers lacking the skills to properly teach our children.

Now he is right most teachers don’t have the time nor the resources they need but is that really their fault? Shouldn’t the super take the lion’s share of blame for that one?

How does the super not realize when he talks like this about the staff, he undermines both them and the communities confidence in our schools. Thinking it would be both inaccurate and bad enough but he tales every opportunity he can to disparage the city’s teachers.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Teacher: we're setting our kids up to fail.

From a reader

I read on a local education blog that you were looking to talk to someone about the current Duval Reads program that DCPS has been using this year. I currently teach ELA in fourth grade at an A school. I would love to offer my opinion on the matter. So long as my name is left out of anything that would make its way back to the District. They don't take kind to criticism. In fact, you could write an entire piece on how Vitti and his underlings intimidate teachers and administrators into silent submission.

As for the curriculum, I'm currently teaching nine weeks of simple machines. Levers, pulleys, wheel and axles, etc. Though, I wouldn't necessarily call it teaching. I read from a script. My script, like the assessments and workbook pages, is riddled with mistakes and errors. There was no attempt to correct them by the District. The script is quite lengthy and takes a lot of time to complete. In fact, Holli Fears, who is in charge of ELA in 3-5, announced at the Teacher Academy over the summer that she used every last minute of our daily schedule. We did the math. To do everything the District wants us to do, it would take just over five hours. However, we're only given about four hours a day of instruction time. They didn't even factor in bathroom breaks!

The lessons themselves are very thin and completely lacking any sort of rigor or point. It's just a bunch of inane busy work that does nothing to foster any sort of learning. In this module, we are required to do science experiments during our reading class. The experiments are a joke. They try to justify this by saying that students have to read the directions to figure out what to do. In reality, it has nothing to do with reading at all! This is on top of our daily science lesson. The lessons make a lot of assumptions about our students as well. Most of my students walked into my classroom about a year and a half behind in reading. They need a lot of specific instruction that I'm only allowed to deliver to no more than seven students at a time during our center rotation. (More on that in a minute.) The lessons mostly consist of partner talk and filling in graphic organizers. It constantly asks the students to self-assess themselves. They can't do that! These kids weren't even taught how to capitalize or use punctuation. How can they honestly determine why they are or are not meeting the learning target?

Our centers are a joke too. I was told that I needed to have a differentiated activity for each small group of students to last an entire hour every single day. I have thirty-six students. That means I need to be looking at data and creating about eight different hour-long lessons a day for 180 days. The actual lesson in our script/manual takes about two hours to prepare. It is not humanly possible for one person to keep up with the demands the District placed on us for our center groups. Never mind the fact that we don't have the time in our day for them as reading often runs over. This is the only time that we are allowed to actually teach our way. Sadly, the District put such limitations and restrictions on it that centers are almost useless.

Furthermore, DCPS is all about Blended Learning. We use two programs specifically at the elementary lessons.The first is i-Ready. In fourth grade and above i-Ready is used only for math, except for our enrichment students. These students scored very low on a diagnostic test. However, we are not allowed to use i-Ready Reading during school hours. We can only use math. (Math on i-Ready is taught vastly different in class, which is already very different from how it will be on the FSA. Makes total sense.) The other program we are required to use is Achieve3000. Achieve takes old AP news articles and rewrites them on numerous Lexile levels. The students receive that article that is on their level and have to answer questions about it. We are required to have the students complete two articles at 75% or better each week. That doesn't sound so bad until you realize that very few of our classroom computers work. We have asked the District repeatedly to fix them. They respond by telling us that our computers are too old and won't be repaired. Yet, they won't give us new ones. This does not factor into thought process when they review the Blended Learning usage. We've been yelled by our principal who had been yelled at by some higher up because we were too low.

Our biggest concern right now is writing. We have the big FSA writing test in February. So far, Duval Reads includes a thirty minute writing lesson a day. These writing lessons include free writes, which are not on the FSA, narrative writing, which is not on the FSA, and opinion writing essays using informational text. Seriously, one lesson asked students to give their opinion about St. Augustine's history. I was also asked to use poetry to teach how to end a paragraph. Nothing I've taught from my manual has done anything to prepare my students for the writing test. Our scores from across the district will tank this year.

Another big problem we're having is the complete chaos in the ELA department. Holli Fears is completely incompetent and very nasty to those who seem to challenge her. Nothing is getting done in a timely manner and everything is just thrown together without any real thought. We didn't know that we would be spending a solid five days of testing until the day before we started. That number has grown to ten with the amount of ESE testing and make-ups. We didn't even find out there was a writing test until after we completed all the other tests. The materials for our lessons consistently arrive late. We aren't provided the supplies required by our contracts. I spent two weeks printing our thirty pages of lessons a day using copy paper I bought myself because no one bothered to get me a manual.The list goes on and on! Yet, the specialists and other "support" personnel come in and point the finger at us.

Overall, my kids are completely defeated. They've been given work that is way too hard and completely pointless. They are tired of failing and have started giving up. Every single day, I leave work three hours after I stop getting paid, feeling like a worthless teacher. I don't want to teach anymore. Vitti has completely sucked all the joy and fun out of my job. This county will never reach our full potential with that lecherous man as our leader. His personal failings and scandals should have long disqualified him for the job. It hasn't. His professional failings and scandals should have been the end of his career. Yet, here he is, still causing damage to our children that will take years to fix. Even Joseph Wise wasn't this bad.

Why should local teachers talk to the media? (rough draft)

I talk to teachers all the time, I would say at least a dozen a week. We talk about the curriculum, discipline, working conditions and a whole host of other issues. Most are frustrated with the direction that the district is heading but even more are afraid.

They are afraid if they to speak negative consequences will accompany their actions. They wont be reappointed, they will be put on a growth plan or they will just be messed with and I get it too.

Let me tell you about my last year at Ed White. I had two sections of VE science, a regular education research class and co-taught one earth space science class and two biology classes. My first period class was in Mod 3, a cluster of classes on one side of the school and my second period class was in Houston Hall an auditorium on the other side, though I also taught this class in the music room, a small classroom that sat 20 that my 30 kids would squeeze into and the library. One of my kids asked me why the admin hated me so much to move us around so much and I told him it was actually him they hated and he was the reason we were moving.   

After my trek across campus I would return to the room I was in first period for my third period class. 

The second half of the day were my co-teach classes but since I had my own preps and didn't have common planning with any of the teachers I would often learn what was being taught at the same time the kids did when I arrived. It was miserable.

Furthermore after five years at Ed White I had accumulated stuff, you know like teachers do, the four previous years I had my own room but now I had no place to put it. So I stored it in an abandoned office where I would also do my planning until I showed up one day and it was all gone, either thrown out or given away. I managed to get some of it back but it was very disappointing that my personal property had been so disrespected.

Though the most disappointing thing was when one day I returned home and my roommate called me to tell me about my dog, It was surreal I didn't understand what he was saying, something had happened to him, what, I said, whats going on. 

It turned out he had found my guy who was old and he had collapsed. He said he called me over and over at school and left several messages none of which I got and after a couple hours my dog died, without me. Just a dog right but he had been part of my family for 14 years he deserved to have me with him at the end.

That was my last year at Ed White as I was surplussed the day before teachers were supposed to report the next and the reason I was given was, "some data on Pearson" data they at the time couldn't show me.     

Later, months later, I learned that the data came from the 23 ESE kids in the three classes I "co-taught", something like six had improved, 7 either didn't or regressed and the other ten didn't have any data. I pointed out that I had done very little of the actual teaching but at this point I had moved on. 

So I get it when teachers tell me they are afraid and don't want to talk, the district can be bastarded coated bastards with bastard filling. 

Why tell you all this? It's because my last year at Ed White was the first year I started this blog. Us doing things the right way however, disciplined classrooms and respected and engaged teaches was more important than anything I personally had to endure, though I still get mad and sad when I think about not being able to be with my dog as he slipped away.

People have to know and I really believe that if they did they would want and demand better.

If only we had a media that was interested in informing them. I always encourage people to go to the media with their concerns and have passed along notes and information and even set up meetings too but I am beginning to think whats the point of doing that.

The Times Union did a piece today on the early grade curriculum that completely missed the point. Instead of talking about how developmentally inappropriate it is and how teachers aren't given what they need to succeed the reporter wrote mostly about the religion components in the curriculum. I was so incensed I wrote the reporter this note.

This is why I have a hard time getting people to talk to you.

I just read your piece and there were just a couple throw away paragraphs at the end about how teachers felt the curriculum was inappropriate but that was the story you should have told.

Nobody I am talking to thinks the district is trying to indoctrinate first graders towards a particular religion or that the teaching of religion in school is wrong. 

Teachers think whats the point of talking to the media when they just give the district a pass and their voices are ignored and how can I tell them they are wrong?

How can I?  

I really believe that if people knew more they would want and demand better, the thing is we can no longer sit around and wait for the media to do their job because they aren't interested in doing it and I for one am past sick and tired of them covering for the district. Rome is burning and like Nero the media is just playing the fiddle.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

My thoughts on the First Coast High/Sub fiasco

All over social media and the news there has been a video of an out of control classroom and the pleas of a mother that said this was the rule not the exception.  

I was asked not to long ago about discipline in our schools before the arrival of superintendent Vitti and to be honest it wasn’t good then either. Often referrals went unprocessed and kids then too played the system, the big difference then was the system was undefined, kids new they could get away with anything short of order but it wasn’t codified like it is now.

I have been pretty critical of the districts feel good restorative justice policies and changes to the code of conduct, I believe they both lend to children’s ability to push the envelope and they have taken an already bad situation and made it worse.

The fact that this happened at First Coast high school and the parent says they asked the principal for help only to be ignored is also particularly frustrating. Principal Al Brennan must know where the bodies are buried as never have I seen a principal do such damage to a school and keep their job. He is an embarrassment and represents all that is wrong in the district.

I also find it reprehensible that the district chose to play off the incident and blame the substitute teacher firing them. So many of these subs are put in no win positions and told to handle, i.e. endure any problems that occur.  Many teachers are already hung out to dry so it is no wonder that students ignore and disrespect these strangers especially since they aren’t required to listen to or respect the teachers of record.

Finally people shouldn’t think this is an isolated incident or just occurs when subs come in, nor should people think it is every school or every classroom. I maintain that for the most part we are doing a great job. The problem however is things like what happened in the video happen often enough that we should be concerned.

Discipline is hard but when the district ignores it, it becomes worse. I fear we are courting a real tragedy here.

To read more, click the link:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Times Union looking to talk parents and teachers about elementary ELA curriculum

Teachers and parents, the Times Union is looking to talk to people about the elementary ELA curriculum, the reporter Denise Amos Smith says she can keep names confidential. Just send her an email.

I really believe if more people knew they would both be outraged and demand better. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Dear Principals, some of you really suck, Merry Christmas superintendent Vitti

Superintendent Vitti said today in the Times Union we don't have enough high performing principals to lead these 50-60 percent filled schools.

You know this is something I have said many times, we don't have enough great leaders and don't seem to be cultivating enough more. I have also said, who you know rather than ones ability has led to many promotions in the district time and time again.

There however is a big difference from me sitting at home blogging on my couch and the superintendent. I am allowed to say those things where he should not be. Who cares what some blogger says, while at the same time the superintendents words carry weight. He should be building our principals up rather than constantly tearing them down in the media (and I hear much worse behind the scenes).

The superintendent routinely disparages the principal corps, Over and over again he has referred to a shallow bench. I wonder if the principals he is referring to and is it a dozen, is it two dozen, is it half the principals or more, know that he thinks they suck and that he would replace them in an instant if he could.

I wonder how many parents are at home thinking, hmm I wonder if my kid's school has one of those crappy principals Vitti is always referring too.

The superintendent takes every opportunity to disparage the districts staff, teachers and principals alike and friends that's noway to run a district.

Maybe the truth is we are one high performing superintendent away from being the district we could be.

My wife says we need the right people in the right seats on the bus but we also need the right bus driver too. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

The district cancels Christmas

From a reader:

Since last Thursday, my elementary students have been taking daily tests, an hour and a half each day, with no break. This will last for a full week, ending this Thursday. Yet, on top of the excessive amount of testing in their week, the district still expects us to teach a lesson from the modules, for ela and math, on each of these testing days. Could this be any worse? 

Yes... Because we have also been told our yearly class holiday party, which the kids and their families look forward to, will have to be replaced with the ela and math lessons, too. The priority is the curriculum, not the children. 

My students are joyful, talkative, curious, excitable, and filled with laughter and love. I am being asked to stifle that. I am being told to put out the lights in their eyes, and force my kids, day after day, to endure this frustrating, monotonous, developmentally inappropriate curriculum. My heart breaks, because these children have been entrusted to me, to my school, to Duval county... We are failing them.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Superintendent Vitti's "who me" leadership. (rough draft)

Despite almost constant complaints about the unrealistic pacing guide and being told that teachers feel overwhelmed the superintendent routinely shrugs his shoulders and like Shaggy says, "it wasn't me".

He usually blames it on our principals, saying some may have interpreted the learning schedule as a set in stone document and he does this at the same time when he talks about releasing proven teachers from rigidness of the curriculum. This seems like an easy fix as we head into the 15th week of school.

And you know our principals right or what the super likes to call our shallow bench.

Meanwhile our principals are saying, its not us and friends I have to say being a principal in this day and age and district must suuuccckkk, the pressure must be unbearable, they say they are getting their orders from the cluster chiefs who must be getting their orders from the super right, I can't imagine any of them going rogue.

I am not just hearing from people at schools with poor principals either, I am hearing more and more from teachers at "good schools" that say they love their administrations. They lament the browbeating and intimidation that the district staff heaps upon them. They are saying teachers are talked down to and in a fashion that would get them written up if they would speak the same way to their students. They report being give zero leeway on the pacing guide, district tests, absences, or reteaching be damned.

I wonder if the district has ever considered helping and supporting our teachers rather than micromanaging and bullying them?

So whose fault is it? Principals? They say it's the district staff? The super says it is them.

Either way is this anyway to run a district? Shouldn't we expect more and better?

Principals should speak up and advocate for their children and staffs and I know that is a scary prospect and the super should dial back the pacing guide and tell the various chiefs to chill out and be leaders instead of bullies, I mean if that is what he really wants them to do.  

Then the super he should lead, if he wants it one way then he shouldn't hide behind shoulder shrugs and who mes. He should own what is going on rather than passing he buck. The truth is it is him whether he knows it or wants to admit it or not.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Teacher, the testing scrimmage is a huge disruption

From a reader:

The testing is a HUGE disruption. 

It trickles down into the rest of the day...the kids and faculty are unfocused and tired. Behavior problems increasing and that set in stone paving guide is ignored. 

More than s handful of times I saw teachers doing activities like walk the track or sit outside and read or watch an educational video because EVERYONE knew that the day was shot. 

I did see some teachers really try to rein the kids in, to pretend it was a normal day and get through what that guide said the lesson had to be I WILL NOT BE BEHIND was the conquering thought---and these classrooms had kids sent out left and right for behavior issues. 

Can't win.

No we can't.

Is anybody else tired of the district lying to us about testing?

The district over and over has said, look at us we have cut testing, we listened to teachers and parents and we're doing what they asked.

Except they didn't and the district is currently in it's second week of what they are calling a scrimmage designed to mirror the FSA test kids will have to take later in the school year. Ten full days of testing, more for schools without the resources to get it done during that window. Ten days of classes being disrupted.

This year weeks of testing have replaced last years end of quarter tests. Some people I have spoken to think we are testing more than ever despite the superintendents and districts assertions otherwise.

I get the tests too, the state hasn't given us much leeway, what I don't get is the district telling the public one thing and doing the exact opposite and I for one am tired of it.

Now for my regularly scheduled rant. The district doesn't get that if they make school miserable for students and teachers alike that we will never reach our potential, never. We also cannot alienate and push away parents, we have to be honest with them and we have to rally them behind our schools but why should they support them when they are told one thing while another happens.

Nobody likes bad news, but people hate being lied to worse. 

Florida's wacky school grading system

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The district setting up more teachers to fail.

From a  reader:

We had a big meeting today at my elementary school. We aren't using i-Ready and Achieve3000 enough.Too bad most of our laptops on the big and expensive carts don't work. The District has told us repeatedly that they won't fix them because they no longer service Apple computers. In the meantime, my kids will be waiting ten minutes for the few working computers that we have to boot up and log in. That doesn't even include the time it takes for the web browser to open and for my kids to figure out their user name and password.

Testing over the past week has been fun as well. I had students sobbing because their computers stopped working in the middle of the test and they thought that they were going to be punished for not completing it. Seriously! Performance Matters kept having connection issues and caused a box to pop up that blocked text and wouldn't go away. I had a few browsers crash. The internet dropped out numerous times. The mice and keyboards randomly stopped working. I had one kid hit the exit button for Session One that completely ended his test. The list goes on and on. It was a complete fiasco. At least those students had a computer. I had several who didn't because there weren't enough to go around.

If the District wants to require our students to do an increased amount of work on the computer, then fine. However, they need to stop yelling at us until they give us what we need to do what they want.

Duval’s much acclaimed KIPP School projected to make a D

When the superintendent talks about charter schools he usually throws in, and the KIPP School is doing really well.  It’s a model of what charter schools can be.

He may wish it was a model school because his benefactor Gary Chartrand is so connected to it but the reality is it’s not no matter how hard he might wish it was to be.

Their school grades have been F, worse grade in northeast Florida, a Miraculous B, a grade protected C, it would have been a D but the state of Florida had a school can only drop one letter grade at a time rule, another B and according to the state of Florida another D this year as there is no grade protection anymore.  A yo-yo has less up and downs than this school. If we are being honest the school's grades have been F-B-D-B-D.

This is considered to be the gold standard of charter schools in Duval, the one that gives all the other crappy ones cover, the ones that public school haters on the board, Fischer and Shine can point to and say, see they aren’t all that bad.

Our school board has outsourced the responsibility of educating our children and those children and the city are paying the price.

To see its and other schools projected grades, click the link:

Friday, December 4, 2015

Is a center school for autism really a good thing?

There is a healthy conversation about should there or shouldn't there be a center school dedicated to autism.

Here is the thing about autism, it's a spectrum disorder, you can go from children who aren't toilet trained and frequently exhibit huge, disruptive and violent behaviors to highly intelligent and generally well adjusted and everything in between.
When the district throws out autism center but is light on the details it gives a lot of people angst.

My two cents is if there are children who can't be mainstreamed then a center schools with small classes and intensive services can be a good thing, though I have to say strapping an autistic kid to a seat on a bus and keeping them there for an hour or longer which is what will happen if there is just one central location.

Another concern is where are they going to find enough kids to make it work? I don't think they can do it even stripping the center schools of the autistic kids there, I just don't think there are enough of the kids who would benefit to make it feasible, now there are enough autistic kids but some of those kids would be hurt not helped by a center just for autistic kids. Evidence below.

Finally, it has to be done right and I have reservations that the district, that this administration can pull that off.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The difference between good news and just news

Now this is good news. I know some schools, mine included have already been doing this but the more kids we can make sure start the day with a meal the better.

This on the other hand is just news.

From the Times Union:

The most surprising finding, he (Trey Csar, president of the Jacksonville Public education fund) said, came from a new question on the poll: People were asked to guess Duval County schools graduation rate.
The guesses ranged broadly and averaged to 61 percent. That’s far lower than reality - 74 percent in 2013-14, the last year of data. Vitti said he expects the rate for the Class of 2014-15 to be higher.
Csar said he doesn’t know why people assume Duvals’ graduation rate is worse than it is, considering that on-time graduates have increased steadily for Duval each year in recent years and were last at 62 percent in 2011.
“They’re four years behind reality,” he said. “That points to a sizable perception gap in how the community views schools.”
He said Duval needs to do a better job trumpeting its graduation rate.

“The district doesn’t have to spin anything; they can just use the facts,” he said.

Trey Csar seems really excited about this and I might be too except graduation rates are up and up tremendously everywhere, literally everywhere.

There are a bunch of reasons why and where I get it, lets acknowledge it, it's really not that special when everyone is doing it.

Furthermore Csar might not know it but graduation rates don't always correlate to a quality education but hey lets have a party anyways right? 

How the state of Florida used bad data to almost destroy a teacher's life.

Emily Litella and Duval County or the State of Florida
From a Reader

Recently I heard from a Civics teacher about the student data piece of an evaluation from a prior year. It brought to mind the brilliant Gilda Radner and her character, Emily Litella.

The teacher received an email that said an error had been made in the VAM score for the year 2013 – 2014. Seems that the score wasn’t below 25% of students making growth and that the NEEDS IMPROVEMENT rating was in error. In actuality, the teacher is EFFECTIVE.

The teacher was told: Recently, it was discovered that there was an error in the posting of scores for the 2013-2014 Civics’ Assessment for CAST, which resulted in a miscalculation of student growth scores in the Civic silo.  As a result, there has been a change in your final Summative Evaluation score for that year and your final rating went up a level.  Below, you will find both your previous and revised final scores and ratings. You have the option to not take any action or to sign a corrected copy of your 2013-2014 evaluation.  Should you desire to sign a corrected copy, please notify me via e-mail by Wednesday, November 18th.  If you choose not to take any action, then a copy of this report is being attached to your 2013-2014 Summative Evaluation and forwarded to the Florida Department of Education. 

In other words, ever since the ERRONEOUS rating, the teacher went through 9 kinds of hell as district people flooded the classroom to show what was wrong and how to do it right. (Sorry for the awkward phrasing, but I am not using pronouns to narrow down the gender. So admins on all levels, stop trying to guess who this is.) The teacher worried about not only losing the job, but the career if the state continued to get erroneous evaluations and the law mandated that the teaching certificate be invalidated through non-renewal.

But a year and a half later, the teacher gets a ‘My Bad,’ and … well, Emily LItella said it best:

I thought that was the end of this piece, but the teacher tells me that in spite of complying with the District to go in to Prudential Drive and sign a correct version of the evaluation, the District isn’t fussed enough to tell the teacher when to come in and do so.

An Emily Litella ending indeed. Oh go ahead and watch it one more time:

It’s the best a teacher is going to get.

The stages of cancer, err make that school accountability in Florida

By Greg Sampson

The Stages of Cancer

Stage One Precancerous: You have a growth.

The State of Florida has, for some years, been committed to perfecting a workable system of accountability for the public schools. The Florida Statewide Assessment Program, begun in 1971, has been an important element in this accountability effort. The program was designed to assess students' academic strengths and weaknesses, particularly in the basic skills. (Quoted from the FLDOE website.)

But the FLDOE website links serve up blank pages when I click on them for their official history of testing in the State.

Let’s move ahead to 1998, when the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test—did I get that right? Because the last two words are redundant) began.

The purpose was to see how students performed against the Sunshine State Standards.

The standards themselves were rather vague and eventually the Department of Education had to specify Grade Level Expectations to tell us what each standard meant as students progressed through school. Few people knew of the Grade Level Expectations: an early warning sign that the testing regime was flawed.

Stage Two Cancer: Your growth is malignant, but it has not spread.

School grades began. In the early years, it was only ranking schools according to test performance. Besides the embarrassment of a low grade, there were no penalties for schools except then there were changes of principal and staff, conversion to a charter, takeover by a school management firm, or closure.

NCLB, the signature education initiative of the George W. Bush administration, used federal ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) dollars to force states into the idea that all schools had to make Adequate Yearly Progress to get all subgroups, i.e. racial, ethnic, ESE, and ED (economically disadvantaged—geesh, I’m getting tired of the euphimisms—the poor!), up to scratch. In the first years of NCLB, schools found it rather easy to hit the targets or get into the ‘safe harbor’ provisions.

Schools with the wrong zip code—a nice way of saying they were in poor, disadvantaged, minority neighborhoods—struggled to meet the targets, but everyone else was fine.

Districts focused resources on healing these few failing schools.

Stage Three Cancer: Your malignancy has spread, but with chemotherapy and radiation we can arrest it.

People who have had cancer or had close family members who have had cancer know these treatments for what they are. Doctors are going to do things to your body to almost kill you, but not quite, in the hope that they will kill the cancer but you will survive.

Every school is under threat. Next Generation Standards emerge. Teachers give in to test preparation and convince themselves that when students pass a test that presumably matches the standards, somehow they have taught the standards. The test looms over everything.

“Throw your book down,” cry principals. “Teach them to pass the test.”

Computer programs are bought. All is preparation for the all-important test. Students stress over how to pick the right answer choice on the test.

Principals are fired; teachers are threatened. Children bawl.

Test results become part of the annual evaluation of school-based personnel. Invalid statistical measurements based on a best-selling book about baseball are used to decide hiring and firing of teachers. Denounced by professional statisticians, the measurements nevertheless are forced upon teachers.

Tests are everywhere. If everyone must be measured by data, data must be had. Districts are commanded to produce a test for every subject at every grade level to answer the criticism that teachers are being measured by data that is irrelevant to their job. Reading data for art teachers is one example. Now we have testing without end, every subject, every teacher, every child.

Public reaction. Too much testing. Tests are dropped, but now we are back to measuring teachers by tests that have nothing to do with the subject they teach. When did a student have to read in order to pass Physical Education?

Technology is put into classrooms despite the inappropriateness for authentic student learning. It is there to produce data—the chemotherapy of education. A steady drip of data will destroy the cancer.

Stage Four Cancer: The disease has metastasized in all the organs of your body. The prognosis is terminal. You will die.

New standards, new tests, new cut scores—those arbitrary levels that pass judgment on whether a student is a failure or not. States deliberately set those levels to fail most students—70% or higher.

Public schools must die.

“They kill horses, don’t they?”

(A reference from a movie about horses that break legs and cannot be healed. The humane thing is deemed to be euthanization.)

Public schools are at Stage Four by design of politicians, the rich, and misguided reformers. But wait, public schools are not really at Stage Four cancer, they have no broken legs and they don’t need to be killed. But the big money needs you to believe that.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Duval's use of Teach for America should be a civil rights violation

It's been all over the news the last few days, that the Department of Education is opening a civil rights investigation into Duval County Public Schools. Their concern is that the city's minority children are getting shortchanged.

Well one blatant way we are shortchanging our minority students is by placing Teach for America hobbyists recruits in those schools that are mostly minority.

Teach for America takes non education majors who go through a five week access course and puts them in our mostly minority and poorest schools where they are supposed to serve two years (about a fifth don't make it) to be replaced by a new set, assuring a constant revolving door of teachers. They in affect are doing the exact opposite of what we know is best for our kids, who need experienced teachers and this is a program that Duval has expanded from 50 to 200.

Friends they only go to the schools where their lack of training and experience can do the most damage. You won't find one TFAer in Mandarin or at the beach.

Why don't our minority kids deserve experienced or trained educators? This is a question the district should answer and that I hope the Department of Education asks.

To read more, click the link:

How dumb is Florida's House education Committee? Very!

Oy vey, want more proof this ill conceived program is nothing more than a giveaway to Teach for America? Well here you have it as the republican members of the committee are proposing keeping to bonus program based on teachers SAT scores.

From the Orlando Sentinel:
A new teacher bonus program that sparked controversy because it offers $10,000 to those with high college admissions scores -- even if they took the ACT or SAT decades ago -- should be continued, the Florida House's education committee thinks.
The committee on Thursday is to take up a proposed bill that would make the new Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program a permanent part of state law.
The controversial program was approved in the spring by the Florida Legislature. It provides $10,000 bonuses this school year to teachers who were rated "highly effective" and scored in the Top 20 percent on either the ACT or the SAT they year they took the exam.
Brand new teachers -- those who started teaching in August -- can be eligible, too, based solely on their test scores.
The legislature earmarked $44 million for the program, with the aim of providing the $10,000 bonuses to up to 4,402 teachers.
How long are these people going to be allowed to damage public education?

So much for Florida's historic education budget.

Governor Scott calls his proposed education budget historic. What he doesn’t mention is that historic here is no higher than 42nd in per pupil spending nationwide, even behind the states of Alabama and Georgia.  He also doesn’t mention that most of the new money is going to come from higher property taxes. Finally I don’t think it should be lost on anyone that the five hundred million in increased spending is almost dollar for dollar what is diverted away from the state coffers to pay for the sates voucher programs.

Most of that money goes to religious schools and the entire program has barely any over site or accountability. Governor Scott in effect is saying let’s try and educate our children on the cheap and raise taxes to pay for vouchers.

So in a way it is historic, it is just historically bad for the tax payers and families of Florida.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Duval County asks the impossible of its elementary school teachers.

Teachers all across the district are being told to use more IReady the district's computer program du jour as it hastens the replacement of its teachers with trained chimps who can press pay on a VCR. I kid some but the use of EngageNY has already eliminated a significant amount of creativity and innovation that teachers used to be encouraged to do.

One elementary teacher explained that since the computer lab was often used for the ad naseum testing the district claims to have scaled back that just leaves the four computers in her class and that there just isn't enough time in the day to carry out the districts new computer plan.

Other teachers lucky enough to have access to computer carts lament the loss of time it takes to get them, unpack them and set children up on them which was already substantial but is bound to increase as the district mandates they use them more.

Then everyone is concerned how this will affect ESE and ESOL learners who often need more individual and small group instruction.

Nobody is against using technology to help their kids learn but at the same time few people think it can be used to replace our teachers. The district also needs to rethink it's policy of frequently changing course in the middle of the nine weeks and requiring teachers to do more than what is possible, which are both SOP in the district..

Ultimately the district needs to decide what they want, the trained chimps from paragraph one or competent professionals practicing their craft. Unfortunately it seems like they want more of the former.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is this Melrose place or a School District?

I am not one to write about rumors or personal lives but there is one persistent rumor out there that I felt I should talk about and that’s who followed Connie Hall after the November school board meeting.

In case you don’t remember Connie Hall reported being followed after the school board meeting and was so unnerved she involved the police. The rumor on the street is it was Rachel Vitti the super’s wife who followed her and I don’t know if it was started because Hall reported it was a dark SUV and she drives one or there are reports that she was at the school board meeting and visibly upset, but either way it is ridiculous right? Even if she was annoyed that Hall led the initiative to put a letter of condemnation in Vitti’s file, she would have to know better than to follow and attempt to intimidate a school board member.

At first I pretty much ignored the story but then when the district refused to release the video footage for specious reasons my curiosity piqued.

My curiosity was furthered flamed when I was told that Mrs. Vitti couldn’t have followed Mrs. Hall because Wendy Lehockey, Vitti’s chief of staff was with her. Yeah probably like you, I too at first thought, what that’s ridiculous, the district must be covering for the super’s wife, but to be honest I don’t know if they are friends and maybe they often drive around together after school board meetings.

All of these rumors make our school district sound ridiculous and petty and they distract us from the job of educating our children. We should be debating the curriculum and discipline, pushing back against for profit charters and testing or worried about so many other issues instead of this.  The school board should release the tapes or allow representatives of the media to view them in order to put these scurrilous rumors to bed.

We shouldn’t be distracted by, to use the super’s words, adult issues.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Republicans say if it is fixed lets break it with the FRS. (rough draft)

Spoiler alert continuing to make the teaching profession undesirable even if you hate unions is going to have consequences. You think public teacher salaries are low, check out how much teachers their people make.

I get it too, a full forty percent and growing people that enter the teaching profession don’t last five years but why make things worse which is what would happen if Florida did away with the Florida retirement System for new employees.

From Florida
Florida Republicans once again are taking aim at the Florida Retirement System, arguing taxpayers can save billions of dollars by closing the huge public employee pension program to new members and offering them a 401k-style investment plan.
The proposal, which is expected to be offered by House members in the coming legislative session, would preserve line-of-duty death benefits for law enforcement officers and firefighters, a move designed to appease lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle who have opposed the idea in the past.
House Spokesman Michael Williams said a bill would be created by a committee, although House Speaker Steve Crisafulli has not decided which panel.
“We’re just not sure where it will originate,” Williams said.
The state retirement system serves 621,000 Florida schoolteachers, firefighters, sheriff’s office workers and employees across the state’s 32 executive agencies. Another 346,000 are receiving benefits in retirement, according to a Senate bill analysis performed in June.
The analysis showed the state system has about $138.6 billion to cover active and retired employees, and would need another $21.5 billion to be fully funded. Florida’s pension system is funded at about 86.6 percent, above the 80 percent level state economists have defined as a healthy fund.

Um, why, why mess with something that is working?

My bet is it because if new employees are taken out of the FRS its health will suffer and the legislature thinks they can shore that up by taking even more of public servants salary. People forget that all teachers and members of the FRS took a three percent pay cut during the great recession money that has not been made up for in better times. So be sure to thank a teacher for Florida’s budget surplus.

And for all you haters out there, things might be different if the FRS was in trouble but it’s not all this is, is the Florida Legislature trying to break something that is fixed while harming the teaching profession at the same time.