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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Teacher, DCPS has got it wrong about reading

From a reader/teacher/parent:

He (Vitti) has just tied our hands and tripled the workload. I am interested in what principals and teachers at the elementary level said that we should go the Engage NY route rather than a research based and proven text. I haven't met a single teacher who would rather have worksheets than a text. 

I just don't understand this madness. I don't understand any of it. Our district continues its downward slide in scores across multiple grade levels and subjects. We quit utilizing research based materials with documented success. We have a school board that extends a contract before we have results that would warrant that extension. We have a union that is a dream to work with according to administration but non-existent according to teachers. Parents expressing outrage over how a school is being run into the ground yet news sources that seem to dismiss or not even notice there is a problem. We are switching to using technology for the majority of instruction yet our schools lack the infrastructure to support it. It sounds insane!!! 

As a teacher, I am disheartened by all of this madness. My hands are being tied and I am not being allowed to do what I went to school to do. I am not being given a chance to really teach anymore. My heart breaks for these kids that really do want to learn because we aren't providing them with everything they need. We are not getting the job done and our scores demonstrate that. 

As a parent of two children within our system, I am even more bothered by the fact that they may not be getting all that they need when it comes to their education. I can fill in the gaps as much as I can on my own but my fear is that will not be enough. My fear is that there will be too many gaps for me to fill in. My kindergartner will be expected to learn from a bunch of worksheets?!?!?!? That seems like a recipe for disaster if you ask me. I pray that I am wrong but scores don't seem to indicate that I am. 

Don't get me wrong. I believe the use of novels for teaching reading is a step in the right direction. However, the novels should be carefully selected for each grade level, keeping in mind not only the standard you wish to teach but also whether the content is appropriate. 

I think the powers that be forgot that the texts often used in a basal come from novels that were award winning at one point. They often get the students interested in reading the novels from which the stories came. Were the basals perfect? No but I doubt a sheet of paper with a passage is enough.

Reader frustrated with the superintendent, 7 reasons we are heading in the wrong direction

From a reader:

When is the School Board going to realize that the superintendent is slowly running off good teachers and administrators? Here's a partial list of what has happened since Nicolai has been here:

1. The printing issue is a problem. Support techs have been told not to fix the printers that teachers have in their room and the replacement toners are not available for purchase through the districts discounted supply catalog. Teachers and administrators have been told that printing is to be done centrally at one printer in the school. 

2. In 2013-2014 , all elementary teachers struggled with a new lesson guide that was available to them only when hooked up to the district intranet. The reason? Nicolai did not want another district to steal all the hard work done by the curriculum writers. Now we are using EngageNY, which is freely available to anyone, including parents. 

3 Again, in 2013-2014, several thousands, dare I say, millions, of dollars of novels were ordered for elementary teachers to us to teach with. The support was spotty - some grade levels had better support than others, depending on who wrote the curriculum guide. The teachers were better this year with it - the second year of using the same novels. Now, new novels, new things and ways to teach. Another stressful year of "firsts".

4. Research -research that has been proven again and again, say that it takes at least 3 years to make lasting, effective change in student performance. Nicolai is not giving anyone or anything - except himself - 3 years of a chance to see how it plays out. NOTE TO THE SCHOOL BOARD - he is moving principals after less than one year at a school, but you are giving him more years? What in the H*LL are you thinking?????????

5. The morale at every school is DOWN. People are afraid. People are exhausted. And the extra hour at schools is a JOKE. Teachers are working 8.33 hours, and then have to prepare for the next day. There is no time to prepare at all during any break, because you have to meet with your grade level, or the content coach, or some other meeting.

6. The union is a joke. When the agreement was made with the lowest scoring schools in Jacksonville, they agreed to, and took away, the bargained rights. Teachers are staying until 5, 6 p.m. for meetings "because they agreed to it".

7. And, Nicolai has created a 2 tier school system. One tier is schools that are located in white suburbs, the other tier are students that ultimately go the black high schools. These schools have different expectations, different meetings, different hours, and have different summer programs. Welcome to the 1950s in Jacksonville. 

Having to print curriculum materials is only one of a long list of systemic problems that is going on in YOUR public school system.

Monday, June 29, 2015

First Coast's unbelievable discipline numbers. Mind boggling!

The first numbers below are how Lee and First Coast high schools did on the recent end of the year Algebra and ELA tests the last two year. There are tons of numbers we could look at and the ELA numbers represent different tests but for now let’s just look at these.

Algebra I
Lee 27-17
First Coast 38-37

Lee 35-37
First Coast 41-40

Lee had a ten point increase in algebra and a two point decrease in their ELA scores* while First Coast had one point increases in both. None of the numbers are great though a ten point increase in anything is pretty good.

Here is the thing the principal at Lee, Dean Ledford who by all reports was liked by his staff was demoted to Mandarin Middle while the principal of First Coast, Alvin Brennan, Vitti has publicly said he wants to keep around for two more years.

When Vitti met with Lee’s staff I am told he said that Ledford wasn’t right for the job at Lee because he struggled with discipline (why throw the guy under the bus like that???). I find this really ironic because no school made the news more for problems with violence and discipline than First Coast did, though admittedly Lee made the headlines a few times too.

I don’t have access to the numbers at Lee but I do to the numbers at First Coast and I thought about saying they were miraculous but the truth is they are unbelievable.

Class I Violations
Class II Violations
Class III Violations
Class IV Violations

SRO Arrests
If you notice there were stupefying decreases in every category. Geeze Louise if Brennan is that miraculous with discipline then why wasn't he given a fat raise and promoted to oversee the county. Please take a look again.

Brennan does have a reputation as being a disciplinarian but maybe he wasn't promoted because not even the district believes these numbers. Duval has had a history of hiding discipline problems too, brow beating teachers into not writing referrals, or not processing the ones that they do.

It's my bet and please let me know if I am wrong Lee and First Coast teachers, was that Lee was doing things the right way while First Coast was either cooking the books or making is so teachers there were to afraid to write referrals. The bottom line though is the principal at Lee was demoted and the principal at First Coast was called one of the city's best.

If the numbers above despite the drop in the school grade, test scores, and the exodus of teachers are accurate maybe Brennan is one of the best. If the numbers are to be believed that is.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pro privatization web-site uses South Carolina tragedy to push for more charter schools.

Redefined Ed is a pro-privatization blog out of Florida with close ties to Jeb Bush and below is from a piece about expanding charter schools.

Quote of the Week
For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present.  Perhaps we see that now.  Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.
Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate.

Um first absolutely despicable but more importantly despite Obama's support of charter schools I don't believe for a second his message was about expanding charter schools and one would really have to twist themselves in knots to get there.

The lack of shame and dignity displayed by ReDefined Ed, Jeb Bush's pro-privatization blog is truly stunning.

It wasn't to long ago that the right tried to use the tragedy in Baltimore to push for more school choice privatization too.

Did the state just try to give 44 million to Teach for America?

The state board of education has one Teach for America alumni, Rebecca Fishman-Lipsey and at least one big supporter Gary Chartrand, though since they are all basically cut from the same cloth, non-educators/Scott supporters I wouldn't be surprised if they all shared the same opinion.

Teach for America takes non education majors from supposed elite schools and puts them through a five week boot camp before placing them with our neediest children where they are supposed to serve a two year commitment. This is the exact opposite of what we know to be best for our neediest.

Here is where it gets a little wonky, the state has offered 44 million dollars in bonuses to teachers, not ones who are nationally board certified or who have gone to school for advanced degrees, or you know things that matter but based upon teachers SAT and ACT scores. Hmm you know who I bet has some pretty good and easily accessible SAT scores? Recent graduates of supposedly elite schools.

Before you think I have gone all conspiracy theory on you let me remind you that the state also recently funneled 1.6 million dollars to Gary Chartrand's charter school KIPP Impact through a charter school cooperation grant.

At this point nothing they do would surprise me and it shouldn't surprise you either.

Now Trey Csar cares about transparency? (rough draft)

Trey Csar is the president of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and a Times Union endorsed expert. He said something very interesting about transparency the other day.

From the Times Union when talking about the state's release of ELA scores. They’re the new results but they’re really the old results,” he said. “The state has not provided significant transparency into how it is ... computing the scores.”

Now he is right the state has not been very forthcoming and I would call it a cluster$#%^ if it wasn't insulting to cluster%$#^s. The scores however are different which he would have known had he bothered to look at all the scores, the problem is, now Csar cares about transparency?

First I don't think it should be lost on anybody that Csar's boss Gary Chartrand is at the center of the lack of transparency from the state. Up till recently the grocer-in chief who never taught was chair of the state board of education and is still a member of it. 

Furthermore despite the fact JPEF manages money for the district thier board meeting are off limits to the public. Now you might be saying they only manage the QEA money, money given to the district by a group of local millionaires but even that's a problem.

The QEA has in effect set policy for the district. They started a merit pay plan and endorsed untrained novices teaching our most vulnerable children (TFA). These are things which I remind you that we elected a school board to do and their meetings were off limits to the press and public too.

I can make a solid case for quid pro qu from the district to Gary Chartrand too. We gave his KIPP charter school 1.6 million dollars and allowed it a huge and I believe undeserved expansion which in future years will take out a lot more money from the district than the QEA brought in . 

If only somebody could have been at the meetings to make sure that didn't occur.

Where is the transparency for that?

Oh wait it doesn't exist.

Csar's concern about transparency seems very selective.

The Florida Legislature is just making #$&@ up or I hoped you studied for your SATs

A national board certified teacher? Who cares.

Went back to school and got a masters to improve your teaching? What a waste.

An amazing teacher that improves children's lives? Move along

Did well on the SAT ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago? Well now we are talking.

I knew Eric Fresen was dumb but this is beyond the pale. 

From the Tampa Times: About two years ago, state Rep. Erik Fresen picked up Amanda Ripley's The Smartest Kids in the Worldto read on the plane.

The Miami Republican had no inkling at the time that the book, an investigation into student performance, would end up driving a controversial $44 million line item in Florida's 2015-16 budget.
But as he plowed through it, Fresen found a common denominator among nations with top academic performance: well-paid teachers with high aptitudes. So he proposed Florida's Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarships, worth as much as $10,000 each.
To qualify, a teacher must receive a "highly effective" evaluation rating and have scored at or above the 80th percentile on the SAT or ACT they took in high school. For new teachers, just the test score would count.
This jackhole read a book while waiting for a plane and that's how he sets education policy? 
Instead of investing in public schools the legislature is bound and determined to use failed policies and gimmicks. We are doomed, officially doomed. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund has millions of reasons to spin for the district. (rough draft)

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF) once again treaded into territory they never should and that’s policy. They did so in a piece about the release of the tenth grade ELA scores.

This year there was a new test that has been controversial for a whole host of reasons and the JPEF’s gist was don’t worry about Duval’s poor performance.

Before I continue I have to tell you the test has not even been validated yet and furthermore I think it’s a bunch of crap anyways but what we can do is use it to compare how Duval is doing against other districts throughout the state.   

JPEF on the other hand all but discounts the results and Jason Rose their policy expert sites three reasons why.

To be more specific, 55% of students statewide passed the 2014 10th grade FCAT 2.0 Reading assessment last year. Because passing-level cut scores have not been yet been established for the 2015  10th grade FSA English/Language Arts assessment, the results released today were approximated by finding the score at which 55% of students on this year’s test were above and making that the “passing score”, and evaluating everyone else relative to that.

For what it’s worth, 48% of 10th graders in Duval County Public Schools passed the FSA English/Language Arts test according to the scores released today (same as last year), and 57% of DCPS students passed the Algebra 1 EOC (down slightly from 58% last year). Statewide, scores in this release remained the same as last year (~55% passing 10th grade ELA, 67% passing Algebra 1 EOC) – as would be expected with equipercentile linking.

It should be noted that waiting until after a new test is administered for the first time to establish appropriate cut scores or other properties (particularly without sufficient field-testing) is not inappropriate or uncommon.  To some degree, students’ performance relative to each other in the first large-scale administration of the test will influence where appropriate levels are set – in conjunction with input from content-area experts, psychometricians, and others. This is a common and accepted component of test specification and validation.

Now Rose is right the problems with the test are many and cut scores have not been released (determined??) yet either but as I said earlier we can use the scores to compare where Duval is in relation to the other big districts, spoiler alert we are dead last and that is something Rose never mentions.

Furthermore his data is a bit off and his reasoning is way off. First 55 percent of students passed in 2014 but this year the state says it’s only 54 percent. Furthermore it’s true that both this and last year Duval had 48 percent passing but a lot of other districts had difference in their scores.  If the state was just using last year’s stats to set this year’s bar as Rose suggests then somebody screwed the pooch because there are different scores all over the place.

Then when Rose says,  “It should be noted that waiting until after a new test is administered for the first time to establish appropriate cut scores or other properties (particularly without sufficient field-testing) is not inappropriate or uncommon.”  He minimalizes the lack of field testing basically saying it’s not necessary because once students take the tests then the state can figure things out.  

This is a different point of view than most superintendents have. In fact superintendent after superintendent including, Albert Carvahlo of Miami and Nikolai Vitti of Jacksonville chided the state for not field testing the exam. This was one of their and many experts’ chief complaint and Rose makes it sound like it is done all the time and what does it matter anyways.

Here are a couple links sighting superintendents who disagree with Rose.  

It was not long ago that JPEF was the butt of jokes from then school board member Tommy Hazouri who asked, who are these guys? Fast forward a few years and the founder of JPEF Gary Chartrand has his handpicked superintendent and school board in place and suddenly it’s hard to tell where the JPEF ends and the district begins. JPEF has a lot of self-serving interests as they are currently managing millions of dollars for the district to spin Duval’s poor performance in a positive fashion.

Again, Rose is right, the test has lost of problems, Chartrand is also on the state board, picked AIR our testing provider and has steered us into the quagmire we find ourselves in so he has to bear some responsibility for that too right? He however misses, I am sorry tries to hide the bigger problem and that’s compared to the other big districts, we are badly under performing.  

Friday, June 26, 2015

Superintendent Vitti could spin %$^& into gold!

Have you ever seen JFK, the Oliver Stone movie. At one point one of the investigators turned to Jim Garrison the DA and said, how do you know who your daddy is? because your mamma told you is how.  

Well friends we have been hearing that this new round of tests are much harder than the last. Well how do we know it is so, I guess because our superintendent told us. 

Speaking of our superintendent he could spin stepping in crap as a positive thing.

From the Times Union about our bottom the barrel Algebra I and ELA scores: Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said, that considering it’s a harder test, with more writing and informational texts, he’s satisfied that this year’s performance is similar to last year’s.
“To break even is really a step in the right direction,” he said.
These are this years ELA results
Palm Beach, 57
Orange, 52
Hillsborough, 55
Dade, 52
Broward, 55
Duval, 48
State Average 54
This is last years FCAT 2.0 reading results
Palm Beach, 56
Orange, 54
Hillsborough, 55
Dade, 52
Broward, 53
Duval, 48
State Average 55
For a harder test the percentages of kids passing it seems remarkably similar in the big six districts as is Duval's last place finish.
Here is this year's algebra EOC results
Palm Beach, 70
Orange, 64
Hillsborough, 69
Dade, 63
Broward, 69
Duval, 57
State Average 67
Here is last years Algebra I EOC Assessment
Palm Beach, 71
Orange, 62
Hillsborough, 64
Dade, 69
Broward, 68 
Duval, 58
State Average 66
Was this test harder this year too? 
I would like to remind everyone that the ELA test has yet to be validated and I think the tests are crap but the powers-that-be who Vitti often represents at least say they believe in them. My point is two fold, first the super thinks breaking even is a step in the right direction and second how do we know we broke even? because he says we did is how.
Also from the Times Union: Meanwhile, education experts warn against overreacting to these test results.
The percentage passing rates are linked to last year’s average passing scores, said Trey Csar, president of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, which is why they’re similar to last year’s passing rates even though the tests are tougher. They’re like grading on a curve that is based on last year’s scores.
Um,  Wasn't Vitti's wife or best friend available to ask? 
If I get a ten million dollar think tank do you think I can be an expert too?

Kidding a bit but Csar and Vitti's fates are kind of linked I don't know if going to him let alone calling him an expert is going to give us nuanced and accurate information. How do we know he is an expert? the Times Union says he is, is how.

One in eight Florida charter schools in Financial Trouble

From the Tampa Times: A recently released state audit shows that 76 of 615 Florida charter schools ended 2013-14 with a financial deficit, while 31 charters had material weaknesses with their internal financial controls.

Florida's charter schools were sold as saviors. Over 280 have failed and now another 76 are teetering financially and if that's saving us then please stop.  

In a related story the state made it easier for district's to ask about potential charters financials and past failures. Um charters have been around for 17 years now, and now we think it's a good time to start asking those questions? Wasn't the first hundred failures enough? 

Again from the Tampa Times: The rule will make the process easier for school districts, which sometimes can miss background information when they review applications.

Recent reports by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and other media have uncovered charter schools run by people or organizations that shut down, sometimes mid year, and then resurfaced seeking to open another.
Nearly 300 charter schools in Florida have closed their doors because of financial, management or academic problems since they first were permitted in the 1990s. At the same time, the number of charters has grown. The Florida Department of Education listed 646 of them at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year. Six of those are no longer active.

Instead of stacking the deck for these (as a group) failures isn't it time we said enough and invested in our public schools instead? I mean with the record charter schools have what do we really have to lose? 

To look at the audit click the link:

More poor numbers for Duval County

English Language arts tenth grade assessment

Palm Beach, 57
Orange, 52
Hillsborough, 55
Dade, 52
Broward, 55
Duval, 48
State Average 54

Algebra I EOC Assessment

Palm Beach, 70
Orange, 64
Hillsborough, 69
Dade, 63
Broward, 69
Duval, 57
State Average 67

Superintendent Vitti likes to compare us to the other five big Florida counties and invariably we are at or near the bottom and as you can see above here we are again.  

The thing is I know we have great and hard working teachers but I also know morale is rock bottom across the district and leadership is spotty at best. Some schools have great admins while others have bullies masquerading as admins running them. Until the district takes care of its teachers we will always be at or near the bottom.

At some point however doesn't Superintendent Vitti have to take ownership?

Is Superintendent Vitti the gimmick superintendent?

I think we need these two things above all else to be successful, disciplined schools and respected and supported teachers. Without those two things we will continue to spin our wheels never reaching the amazing potential the city has and in my opinion they are the worst two things that the district does.

Instead on fixing those two things the superintendent seems more interested in gimmicking our way to success.

Remember last year when the district had to have open enrollment, it just had to! Then after significant community push back revealed the plan wasn't so well thought out, the Superintendent announced he was going to table it. Well he must have tabled it real good because we haven't heard word one about it ever since.

Then there is restorative justice the feel good discipline plan that the superintendent dropped in our schools. You know the one which says not till a child's fourth fight does anything meaningful happen. Sadly only masochists think getting punched in the face feels good. Who knows if done right this might help unfortunately it hasn't been done right and it has led to discipline getting even worse.

Next there is single gender classrooms which despite dubious evidence the superintendent says he is looking to expand. I think that districts have to experiment to see what works but I also believe the sexes can be educated together too. The recent puff piece celebrating the success of a local single gender middle school in the Times Union failed to mention the 53 staff members (41 teachers and admins, 12 full time city year members), not counting support staff for 471 students and unprecedented level of support. I believe that more than anything led to the small gains at the school.

Then in today's paper he said, let's get uniforms, yes less than two months before the start of the school year he wants the kids at our middle and elementary schools to get uniforms something Duval tried once before and it was a disaster. It's not even getting uniforms that bothers me so much it's he think a paradigm shift for a district of 120,000 kids, many very poor can happen in two months

I think we could add getting rid of books on the elementary level in favor of printouts to the list as well.

Instead of doing whats right the super seems more interested in using whatever gimmick or fad du jour he stumbles across. He needs to understand that the basics did not fail us but moving away from them has.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

EngageNy Duval's new reading curriculum gets poor reviews

EngageNY modules: “So random” is no way to teach.

So there you have it, in brief. EngageNY's interpretation of the Core-- one part useless foolishness, one part stuff that isn't actually in the CCSS, and one part pedagogy that any non-brain-dead teacher was already using. Thank goodness the CCSS are here to save us.

The EngageNY modules have been widely mocked, ridiculed and criticized by parents and educators, students have complained about the drudgery of the lessons, so perhaps the flacks at SED have just gotten sick of defending the indefensible and are ready to throw even more cash into the Common Core curriculum development process.

To be fair there were several positive reviews, the Fordham group and the USDOE, common core supporters and think tanks, which is quite often the case, the people doing the teaching don't like something while those profiting off it love it.

I have talked to a few teachers here in Jax and the consensus was they had seen worse but at the same time they felt replacing books was a huge mistake.

EngageNY bad for kids good for businesses.

Some test questions for Duval County school policymakers who voted to replace textbooks with worksheets downloaded from the EngageNY website in an attempt to maximize test scores that measure proficiency in Common Core national standards.

Q. 1) How much did New York test scores rise two years after using EngageNY?
              Answer: Negligible to none.
For 2014, state language results:  31.4 percent deemed proficient compared to 31.3 the previous year. Overall math scores only slightly better: a jump to 35.8 percent from 31.4. But here’s the rub, small or no gain for black students: Math proficiency 19.3 percent, up from 16.1; language 18.6 up from 17.2. Language levels in the largest urban districts: Buffalo at 12.2 percent from 12.1; Syracuse at 8.5 percent, same as previous year; Rochester at 5.7 percent from 5.6; New York City at 29.4 percent from 27.4.
Q. 2) Who is pushing the Common Core Curriculum and why?
              Answer: The Business Roundtable, an organization of chief executives from the nation’s biggest corporations, and elected officials of federal, state and local governments who genuflect before them.

The “why” can be found in papers from APEC (Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation), which describes itself as a group of corporate representatives from “economies” (rather that nations) with Pacific borders. The gist of a 1997 APEC presentation:
·        Business must determine education content to prepare for the severe realities of the global economy where industries move from country to country in search of higher profits from low-pay, high-skill workers.
·        Education’s scope for the majority of future “human capital” must be narrowly focused because the majority of future jobs will not require college, but laborers conditioned with good attitudes—those willing to work long hours for low pay. The presenter noted Malaysia’s ability to develop such a labor pool from poor rural areas that provide minimal schooling.
·        High stakes testing is an effective sorting system to resign students to lower paying vocational/technical jobs. 

              If throngs of critics are correct, EngageNY’s Common Core curriculum is a mind-numbing, narrowly focused education approach—just what the corporate elite ordered.

              Scary stuff when you consider how this fits into a Trans-Pacific “free-trade” pact, just approved by Congress, that gives corporations specific legal rights denied to labor unions, civic groups and public interest groups.

              Billee Bussard