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Monday, September 28, 2015

Is Florida about to start arresting parents or forcing kids to leave school over opting out?

I ask because that seems to be where we are heading.

First look at what education chairman Marlene O'Toole said a couple weeks ago: "You're not allowed to do that (opt out) and keep your child in a public school," she said. "So if you want to have your child learn another way or do something different, you always have the option to take them (out). School boards should not be ... saying, Well, okay. There is no okay."

Then throw in what Kurt Browing, superintendent of Pasco county said, As much as Browning says he wants to see the system changed, he has yet to change his stance on opting out. He sent his message to parents in February that "There is no opt-out provision," and advised all employees in a memo around the same time, "At no time may a school or its staff encourage students to abstain from participating in the statewide tests."

The article above went on to talk about how students would be forced to sit during the testing time if they refused to take it but the state seems to be getting more and more militant and giving parents fewer options. Though one of the options as O'Toole pointed out is to take your kid and leave, perhaps to take a voucher where there is no test to take.

If it is illegal to opt out then there has to be a consequence for doing so, which is sad because during all the FSA problems districts routinely announced they had better ways to assess children than the test. A test which I remind everybody just prompted sixty-four of sixty-seven district 
superintendents to say they have lost confidence in the system.

It is becoming more and more apparent that the FSA is not being used as a tool to improve education but rather being used as one to bash it into submission. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Humiliation not improvement is the goal of the commissioner and state board of education.

Sixty-four of sixty-seven of Florida’s school superintendents said in a letter that they have lost confidence with the pubic school accountability system, joining millions of teachers and parents and numerous civic organizations statewide. They have urged education commissioner Pam Stewart and the state board of education not to give school grades based on the much maligned Florida Standards Assessment until all the bugs are worked out and confidence can be restored. The commissioner and boards response thus far has been to say not only will we go forward but we will make passing scores as high as possible and we should all ask why.

I believe it is because the commissioner and board, none of who were elected and were appointed by an administration who is more interested in privatizing our school system than improving them, want to humiliate the state’s schools and teachers.

Higher passing scores will lead to more schools being labeled as failures and more teachers being labeled as ineffective. Then the states reliance on high stakes testing and insistence in using a flawed test will also drive more families to take vouchers which have don’t have the same ill-conceived accountability measures in place. In fact they have practically no accountability measures in place as voucher schools don’t have to have certified teachers, recognized curriculums nor take a test that shows any type of growth, furthermore they don’t even have to account for how they spend the money given to them unless they take over two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which is the vast majority of them.

Isn’t it time the Commissioner of Education and the state board of education supported our schools rather than continuously tried to injure them? Sadly they might not do so unless we demand it.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The new ELA curriculum off to a slow start. (rough draft)

When the district decided to go away from books and go with hand outs employing an outfit named Engage NY I had my reservations. Engages reputation was less than sterling and I thought the districts plan to provide materials to all of its ELA elementary classrooms was ambitious to say the least especially considering the districts track record.

Not wanting to be that guy who hates puppies just because the district likes them I decided to wait a few weeks before I wrote about it. Such an ambitious plan would undoubtedly have bugs and need some time to work out, especially here in Duval where we can never seem to hit the ground running.

So last week amonth into the school year I started asking elementary school teachers what they thought and most answers started with well let me tell you, and then they would go into talking about how sometimes the lessons were to complex or not complex enough, while other lessons were inappropriate and how the entire curriculum didn't leave a lot of room for flexibility, reteaching and exploring outside materials. 

They did say however that the district had been fairly good with getting teachers materials, though often there weren't enough to send home and two separate fourth grade teachers complained they were missing materials, so maybe there is a fourth grade glitch but overall at least that part was working much better than I expected. 

I felt the initial consensus was somewhere between not that great and ugh, we're working through it.

Then in the last few days I received the following two notes.  

I teach third ela and am on the verge of quitting. The new curriculum is horrible. I have several teachers willing to talk to the media so long as they can be anonymous. The public needs to know that our new curriculum is HURTING our students. They aren't learning anything. Any idea why this isn't on the front page of the paper?

We are all at a loss! The new Duval Reads curriculum is horrific, and now we are told that the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments are not aligned to the FSA. In 4th grade we have four Social Studies Lessons and they are at the end of the 9-weeks. We have Social Studies standards to teach, and I can't quite figure out why the district feels they can overlook that fact. In addition, there is a Florida Statute that states our elementary children are to have 30 minutes of continual exercise per day. Recess is mandated by the state.

I think teachers are willing to try new things, even radical new things but thier ability to teach what they know to be contrary to their students needs is limited. I suspect that many teachers willingness to give the new curriculum a chance is running out. 

I have a feeling as the year goes on I will be getting a lot of notes like above and just for the record, I love puppies.

How many ninety plus kid classes are there in Duval?

It's just an elective so what does it matter? Well if you are the teacher of the class, a student in it or a parent of one of the students, it might just matter.

Earlier this year I wrote about a PE class that had eighty kids in it. Trying to be as positive as possible the coach said, the administration planned to level the class in the next few weeks, I wondered at the time if that meant they would just have fifty or sixty students.

Fast-forward a month and the teacher now tells me there are over ninety kids in that class and that he has 450 kids on his role. Just PE right, who cares, who cares that it is both dangerous and nothing can get done.

What about foreign languages should we care about them? At another school the foreign language teachers have 250 kids in their classes.

I get it we have limited resources and lots of needs but it seems to me we are setting lots of teachers and students up to fail. I however feel like we are spending a lot of these limited resources on technology, new laser etched computers, and computer programs are over the place when what we really need is teachers teaching.

It's about priorities and having manageable classes where meaningful instruction can go on sadly is not one of them for to may of our classes.

The state nickles and dimes new teachers, it's reprehensible.

On Friday I received the teacher lead money to help outfit and supply my room and yeah Friday was the end of week five, why they can't give us the money during pre-planing is unknown, probably because it would make sense. That being said I am appreciative of this fraction of the money I will end up spending.

I ran into a new teacher last night and he had a frown on his face because he was not eligible for the money. As a new teacher he only had a temporary certificate and the lead money is only for certified teachers.

He also mentioned that he has three tests he has to take at two hundred and fifty dollars a pop, because the state has jacked up the costs of certification tests, to get certified.

That's a thousand dollars he is losing out on right there and that isn't even taking into consideration any money he s going to spend on his room and his kids.

Florida is on the verge of having a teacher shortage as the profession is continuously demonized, the pressure becomes more and more unbearable and the economy continues to recover. Already forty-percent of teachers don't last five years.

Florida cannot continue to marginalize and nickle and dime its teachers if it wants to be successful but maybe that's the point, maybe we don't want to be successful.

It's no secret that Tallahassee would privatize our schools in a minute if they could and part of the plan seems to be kneecapping the teaching profession in any way possible. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Sunk Cost Fallacy of Focus (rough draft)

The Sunk Cost Fallacy, is when you know something is bad but you keep spending money on it hoping you can somehow turn things around.

Focus is the districts new computer program and it had me tearing my hair out and cursing under my breath on my planning period today.

I haven't met a solitary person who has said, you know that Focus, so glad we got rid of oncource our last brand new program.

Lets continue for a minute, outlook, which replaced our old e-mail system about six months ago isn't so great either. Today it informed me I have eleven days to change my password, the third time it has instructed me to do so in six months.

Then there is SEAS the districts new IEP program, and where I hate Focus, I really hate SEAS. It is stuck in the 2014-15 school year.

Who knows maybe the bugs will be worked out of all of above and either I will come to understand and appreciate them but barring that I will muddle through occasionally tearing out my hair and cursing under my breath. I feel like I am flying a plane while trying to build it have the time.

The thing is how much money have we sunk into these things and what are the benefits? Especially is we can't get any of them to work right.

Welcome to Duval County.

Florida dumbs down education, politics not science drive science education

From the I can't make this up file and the Tampa Times

The headline of its blog post: Epic Climate Change Textbook #FAIL. It begins:
"Is our children learning science?
"If those children are being taught about climate from Florida's 5th grade science textbook from publisher Scott Foresman (Pearson), then those children are learning from a text so riddled with glaring and obvious errors that it's hard to know how such a book could see the light of day, much less be adopted by Florida public schools."
The group then parses an 11-sentence excerpt on "How Climates Change," finding four "blunders" that it then aims to deconstruct. Its identified worst offender? The line that reads, "... it is hard to determine why a climate has changed. Scientists have had debates on these changes and will probably have more in the future."
Foul, the organization declares:"Fifth grade students reading this section in Scott Foresman's Science are left with the impression that climate scientists are uncertain about their results, that they have 'debates' about the issues, and that climate may just be too hard to understand fully. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Oy vey it's almost enough to make me encourage a parent to get a voucher to attend a private school except something like a hundred and fifty of them teach creation as science.
Florida can't get much more ridiculous.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

WJCT's American graduate Champions have a habit of saying terrible things.

I am not a fan of our local public radio station, now don't get me wrong, I enjoy First Coast Connect and think their latest Ed reporter Lindsey Kilbride is solid but their leadership is decidedly anti-public education and it has gotten to the point that they don't even really try to hide it anymore.

Take for instance thier last two American Graduate Award winners, an award given supposedly for service to education, Gary Chartrand and Janet Adkins. There are few people in the state who have done more to damage public education than those two but for some reason WJCT decided to give them awards praising them.

This brings me to their controversial remarks. Three years ago Chartrand made what many considered homophobic remarks.

From the I can’t make this up category, today at Florida’s education summit he said: Florida Board Chairman Gary Chartrand suggested that the state look for a curriculum or instructional materials for Common Core that "align with Florida's values and culture." He said reading lists could upset people; particularly in they mentioned topics such as socialism or homosexuality.

Then it was reported today, Adkins made remarks many consider racist.

When speaking about redistricting, she allegedly said, "You draw in such a fashion, so perhaps a majority or maybe not a majority but a number of them will live in the prisons, thereby not being able to vote."
The comments motivated the Florida Democratic Party to respond, saying she needs to apologize to Brown and the African-American community.

Now I am not a fan of Corine Brown at all but that doesn't stop me from being outraged by Adkins despicable comments.

It's becoming more and more apparent that WJCT doesn't care about education and that all they care about is getting the biggest name that supports the anti-public education agenda to come to their little dinners.

Shame on you WJCT, we deserve better from our public radio station.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

We have to stop hoping or pretending that the Privatization off our schools is not Tallahassee's goal.

A lot of people in Tallahassee and not just republican politicians are calling for increasing FSA scores as high as possible.

From the Tampa Times, Florida State University physics professor Paul Cottle, a long-time advocate for improved math and science education, says in his latest blog post that, like it or not, the Board of Education might be on to something.

"To summarize the plot: The scoring scales proposed by the FSA educator and reactor panels would label between 50% and 60% of Florida's elementary and middle school students as proficient, while NAEP says that only 41% of Florida's elementary students and 31% of the state's middle school students are proficient or better.

"Florida's NAEP proficiency rates are at or below the national averages, so the state has ground to make up to be competitive with the top tier states. And excusing Florida's students from the national (and international) competition, as the educator and reactor panels are proposing, will not help."

First we all know when we factor out poverty are NEAP scores rise to the top of the international rankings, so my question is how do higher passing scores address poverty? They answer is they don’t, they just make it seem like more kids and schools are failing and more teachers aren’t doing their job. The whole reason behind wanting to raise scores as high as possible is to further erode confidence in  public schools and hasten privatization.

Furthermore most of the states in front of us really invest in education, maybe we should try that before raising the scores.

Then factor in what incoming speaker of the house Corcorcan said about wanting universal vouchers and head of the education subcommittee O’Toole about if you don’t like the tests you can go elsewhere and it seems pretty apparent, that making public schools look bad and privatization is their true goal.

Cottle needs to go back to the drawing board.

Teacher laments the loss of social studies

Feel my pain! I love teaching Social Studies! I love coming in costumes and the projects my former students have done show such understanding and creativity - that's learning! I would love to enhance the ELA curriculum in 5th grade through S.S. like I did when I taught middle school the past 20 yrs. 

Now, it's "embedded" in the elementary ELA curriculum. Um, I hate to inform those with that idea, but a periodic Achieve 3000 article out of context and out of chronological order is no where close to teaching S.S.! 

No wonder we see these people being interviewed and can't answer anything related to their own country correctly let alone world history. S.S. is not an almighty FSA tested curriculum. Thus, its not important according to the "they" who dictate curriculum. 

Science is suffering at some schools too as some grade levels are to embed it like they embed S.S. - periodically. Oh, but wait, those almighty tests are mostly nonfiction reading in upper elementary and into middle and high school. Things that make you go, "Hummmm?" Recess? Is there such a thing? Oh, and by the way, our students' resource classes were 5x/week, then they were cut to 4x/week. Now, our students who have to stay until 4:00 every day for extra hour reading, only get the resource classes of art, music, PE, and media 2x/week on an A week/B week rotation. 

Not only are we limiting their ability to learn S.S., the fine arts, and P.E., with only 2 resources per week at 45 mins each, when exactly are teachers to get everything accomplished? I can tell you. Hours at night (3 tonight) and more on the weekend (12 hrs this past one, plus a trip to school on Saturday to attempt to gather a ton of materials for an upcoming lab). The kids are missing out and so are the teachers. Teaching is not fun right now. It's laborious.

Monday, September 21, 2015

So much for Social Studies in Duval County

Elementary school teachers throughout the district are being presented with a problem. They have to give a grade in a subject they either aren’t or are barely teaching and that’s social studies.

The district seems to have thrown in the towel with getting children a well rounded education and now it is teach to the test all the time as elementary school teachers are being told to only teach social studies for four out of nine weeks and then when they do to make sure it reinforces their reading lessons. 

Then think about this, we are a district with a reading problem and in addition to above to solve the problem, we have gotten rid of most of our librarians, gone away from books and are working off of handouts. I have to say it seems like our strategy to fix the problem is going to make things worse not better. 

First the district got rid of recess to squeeze in a few more minutes of reading and now social studies is paying the price too.

John Padget vice chair of the state board, clueless or completely clueless?

The biggest problem with public education in Florida is leadership or a lack thereof. Take John Padget the vice chair of the State Board of Education. Despite well documented problems with the Florida Standards Assessment he called for ratcheting up the passing scores as high as possible, which will undoubtedly cause more kids to fail, schools to be labeled as failures and cost teachers their jobs. His reasoning being we are falling behind places like South Korea and Finland.

Mr. Padget who was never an educator obviously doesn’t know it but Finland doesn’t use high stakes standardized tests, in fact they use barely any tests at all. I bet it would greatly upset Padget to know that teachers in Finland are highly unionized and well paid too.

He in effect is calling for us to do more of something that the people he says we need to catch don’t do at all. He is also one of the top education leaders in Florida.

Public schools undoubtedly have problems but most of them have been created by our leaders in Tallahassee and not by our teachers in our classrooms.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Duval County's culture of fear (rough draft)

I went to a Jacksonville Public Education Fund teacher round table this past Saturday to talk about the sorry state of professional development in the county and more on that at the end.

The 25 or so teachers divided into groups and answered questions on huge post it notes (JPEF loves its post it notes) and then shouted out our answers to the other groups. The hope was that at the end of the day we could come up with some solutions that we could take to the district and others.

One of the questions was "what can we do right now to fix the problems in professional development" and one of the teachers in my group said, there are two many gotcha moments, that the district isn't looking to improve teaching through professional development and instead they are looking for reasons to get rid of teachers or to ding them on the cast.

Another teacher spoke about how a district person had done a walk through and complained to their principal about what they were doing and that the person didn't look at context or ask them any questions. They just saw something they didn't believe was perfect and tried to rat them out. Spoiler alert it's usually not perfect, when you are dealing with children even if you have the best plan in the world in place there is a certain amount of winging it going on.

A third teacher talked about how the district ruled with fear and intimidation, that it trickled down from the district administration to school administrations and then to them. I up to that point hadn't even mentioned I had a blog and that I routinely cover that subject and mind you the round table wasn't about teacher morale, it was about professional development and where generally terrible its way down on my and I think most teachers priority list.

The bottom line is we as a district cannot reach our potential as long as the districts leaders think teachers are easily replaceable cogs that can be cajoled into improvement and that friends. The district cannot continue to lead using fear as their chief motivator.

Okay about the workshop, I am often critical of the JPEF but I believe here where they bring teachers together to discuss issues is what they should be doing. It is valuable and important and its a shame that the district itself isn't doing it.

I still have serious concerns about JPEF but I think their teacher forums if done right can be a benefit to the district. The next one is on October tenth at 9:00 at the Hayden Burns library, the old main library downtown. You should consider attending.

As for professional development one of the questions asked was what is working and I swear for a minute or so you could have heard crickets chirping.

Welcome to Duval County

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why is the FLDOE setting up our schools to look like failures?

Especially since there are so many questions about the Florida Standards Assessment that were not resolved even after the state spent 600 grand on a study.

From the Orlando Sentinel, Florida needs to set tough passing scores for its new Florida Standards Assessments, so students leave public school "better prepared for success" and ready to "compete anytime, anywhere for the rest of their lives," said John Padget, the vice chair of the State Board of Education, in a statement sent to newspapers today. 

The State Board has final say on setting passing scores for the new FSA, a series of standardized tests in language arts and math taken by some  2 million Florida students.  The score-setting process, used in Florida for years, is often contentious and controversial, and Padget's remarks make it clear things will be no different -- and perhaps even more so -- this year…
… In an opinion column sent to Florida newspapers today, Padget said he is in favor of "raising the bar as high as possible."  Florida students, he noted, lag academically behind those in top-performing states, such as Massachusetts, and those in countries such as Finland and South Korea. Tougher tests will help students leave school really ready "to meet the global competition."  
Former Gov. Jeb Bush's education foundation weighed in with a similar opinion earlier this week, saying "requiring more of students always will be harder than requiring less, but it’s critical."
Who the ^%#$ is John Padget and doesn't he get it is absolutely ridiculous to compare us to Finland and South Korea. Finland doesn't do high stakes standardized tests and both countries invest in education unlike Florida does.
All ultra high cut scores are going to do is make our schools look bad and further erode confidence in our schools. The reason is to hasten privatization and this not helping children is their aim. 
We have morons on the state board and its there where we should be raising the bar.

How independent was the supposed independent review of the Florida Standards Test?

In Florida nothing should surprise us. Money and people are making lots of money off education has a corrupting influence on some people and by some people I mean legislators in Tallahassee.

From the Tampa Times, Wariness over a recent study of Florida's school testing system reached a new level Thursday as state senators learned that Department of Education officials had input on at least two drafts of the document.

Already doubtful about the study's recommendations, senators suggested its impartiality had been compromised.
"The key feature of this report was it was supposed to be independent. That's how it was sold to us," Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Fort Lauderdale, said of the effort, which cost the state nearly $600,000. "Was there any other person that you could have had review it other than the (commissioner) of education?"
Study author Andrew Wiley of Alpine Testing Solutions said he didn't know. He explained that the department offered clarifications on some technical wording, but did not influence the overall findings.
Sure they didn't.
This means the review was hardly independent, and if the FLDOE helped them with some technical clarifications what else did they help them with. Furthermore the guy makes it sound so minor, just some technical stuff, but wasn't it the technical stuff that so completely and utterly failed?
The game is rigged and teachers, students and public education are the marks, and despite the outrage and evidence the state feels they can just merely roll along with the barest of cover provided by a compromised study.

Senator John Legg is not the good guy on education that some believe he is.

Lets face it the republicans in Tallahassee are bad for public education, now admittedly some are worse than others. Senator  Legg often gets billed as the reasonable one, the one people can talk too and who will listen. Well as Fund Education Now points out that's not really accurate.

From Fund Education Now,  Florida public education advocates, you are making an impact! We used our voices this week and sent nearly 45,000 letters telling the Senate Education Committee that the FSA should not be used to grade anyone.  Now an annoyed Chairman Legg wants us to “stop harping.”  Dismissing the real concerns of parents and professionals by saying further discussion about the state’s testing mess is unnecessary does not make it so.  Aside from that, it’s extraordinarily tone deaf.

After decades of micro-managing public education, Legg claims “there’s nothing the legislature can do.”  He goes on to assert that they are “unable to stop” Commissioner Pam Stewart and the Department of Education from setting pass/fail cut scores, issuing school grades or using the flawed scores to evaluate teachers. Legg’s comment lacks credibility. He knows Stewart is an unelected political appointee with an ardent penchant for rule following. The FSA testing mess was wholly created by the Florida Legislature. Period.

During the Senate hearing, politicians were dogmatic about preserving the political agenda of “ed reform.” Even though the EdCount/Alpine  study team will not deem the FSA 100% “valid,” committee members said any discussion of alternatives is useless. Looking for a better way, such as using limited standardized tests only as transparent diagnostic tools would destroy Florida’s A-F Accountability scheme.  Reformers know that without high stakes there would be no classroom fear or chaos. There would be no leverage to use against us.

FEN is right, if the study would have come back and said the FSA was invalid we would not be using it for anything as is we aren't using it to make graduation decisions, which begs the question how is the test good enough to be used for grading schools and evaluating teachers but isn't good enough to make promotion decisions for kids. 

I feel like Alpine Testing Solutions really had to contort themselves not to chuck the entire test. They left enough doubt that a heard of elephants could easily plow through.

Speaking of elephants, John Legg is not the reasonable one, not the one people can talk to and who would listen, if he were then there would be noway he could just dismiss all the evidence and all the calls from superintendents, teachers, school board members and parents who have said don't use this test.

Who is John Legg that he thinks his opinion is more accurate than evidence?

Even Fox News is calling out future speaker Corcoran

Richard Corcoran was elected to be the next speaker of the house starting in 2016 called for universal school vouchers earlier this week. You know he has to be a bad egg if even Fox News is calling him out.

It is past time the people of Florida stopped voting for these politicians who don't care about the people. 

Florida's coordinated plan to destroy public education

Before you think I am engaging in hyperbole just read what the future speaker of the house Richard Corcorcan and and house education chairwoman Marlene O'Toole' said this week.

First Corcorcan called for universal vouchers, From the Daily Record, In a speech following his unanimous approval by House Republicans, Corcoran detailed a list of initiatives that included universal vouchers for education, 12-year term limits for state judges and new restrictions on lawmakers’ employment during and after their time in office.

Then O'Toole told parents that if they didn't like the way things are done in public education that they can take their children and leave.

From the Tampa Times,  "You're not allowed to do that (opt out) and keep your child in a public school," she said. "So if you want to have your child learn another way or do something different, you always have the option to take them (out). School boards should not be ... saying, Well, okay. There is no okay."

So one politician says universal vouchers are on the horizon and another tells parents to hit the road. We have to stop pretending the republicans in Tallahassee care about public education and want to do anything but privatize our schools.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The District's testing coordinator up and quits.

I am told Mr. Scott was a pretty decent and hard working guy, who tried his best to keep people informed though the district would often make last minute changes which made his and others job more difficult.

Sadly him resigning a month in puts up a lot of red flags.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Becki Couch: vouchers or high stakes tests, one has to go.

Public money pays for vouchers at private schools and public money pays for public schools and Becki Couch perhaps inadvertently explained why having both makes no sense.
From the Times Union:
Board members Becki Couch and Ashley Smith Juarez are among those who voiced misgivings, especially given that some students who don’t test well may meet the other requirements.
“At what point do we take ownership for the fact that kids will have a 2.0 GPA and all their credits and yet can’t pass a basic test,” Couch asked. “Are we saying it’s just the student’s fault?”
Couch noted that students in private schools or who are home schooled don’t have to take state-required tests to get diplomas.
“By putting this policy in place, we’re taking away a rite of passage,” she said, “that had that kid gone to private school, he would have been able to cross the stage” and get a diploma.
One thing has to go vouchers or the test, because both are funded with your money and it is incongruent that they exist together.

Interestingly enough often the supporters of vouchers are also the biggest supporters of high stakes testing, well when private schools are exempt from them that is.

Vitti gets it right and wrong about walking at graduation

Kids that don’t pass a high stakes test should be allowed to walk at graduation. The tests are not a good indicator of what children have learned and what children do and don’t know. For the district and the state of Florida for that matter to discount years of work and passing grades for the outcome of a high stakes test is an abomination.
However some finishing seniors should not be allowed to walk. I wrote this a while back.
How many students who walked across the stage at graduation didn’t really graduate? I am not talking about the students who had the grade point average and credits but hadn’t passed the F-CAT either. I am talking about students whose GPA’s were to low or didn’t have the credits but were still allowed to walk anyways. My guess is the number is in the hundreds every year. Should we stop calling it a graduation ceremony and start calling it a completion ceremony?

Students who are credit shorts shouldn’t be allowed to walk and that they have been allowed to is something we should be talking about. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

How to get a highly effective evaluation in Duval County

From a reader

Last year was the first year I received exceeds on my evaluation for discipline.

 I only got it because I stop writing referrals and just grinned and bared it the whole 180 days. There was no point in writing Little Johnny up on a referral because the office clerk was signing the administrators name to the referrals. 

When she did not respond, the referrals just sat on her desk for kids to steal. You couldn't even get a decent pass back to class from that office because she wouldn't even put the child's name on it. Also, in many cases even her signature changed from child to child. 

What a waste of time. 

In the meantime, Johnny has figured out how the game is played and he is creating holy havoc in everyone's class. Teachers are put in a no win situation, so there is no point to writing a referral. Besides I need the extra point for my evaluation score because Johnny is going to *uck up during the EOC and that is counted against me too!

The study Vitti doesn't want you to see. Technology is not a savior.

It's 2015, technology is a way of life and not going anywhere. It quite frankly is a necessity as well. That being said, how much is to much. I have this amazing smart cart I can barely use and for all its bells and whistles, make that expensive bells and whistles I don't believe it is any better than the last two generations of technology I was using. 

Vitti, loves his technology and he often touts the districts use of it, but how much is to much?

From State Impact: The more technology students use in school, the less progress they make on math and reading lessons. That’s the conclusion of a leading international education research group on the use of technology in schools.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development oversees the largest international math and reading exams in the world. The group recently looked at the availability and use of computers and Internet in school and compared it to how those countries were doing on international tests.
One conclusion: the more time students spend online in school, the worse they do. Students with moderate technology use performed best on international exams.
Like I said above, technology is important but to be honest none of it beats a teacher teaching. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

So much for improving ESE in Duval County (rough draft)

I am just going to get right to it.

At Ed White high school they are putting street wise kids who will never pass the FSA in with their intellectually disabled children. These kids which would have previously been staffed Varying Exceptionality are leaps and bounds more advanced than what one of the teachers at Ed White called, my babies, because sadly intellectually that is where many of them are at.

Then at XXXX XXXXXX they have been staffing kids from the PRIDE program to the transition program there. These are kids that have been diagnosed as Seriously Emotionally Disturbed and again intellectually are generally leaps and bounds above the kids that at XXXX XXXXXX.  If you are disabled you can stay in school till you are twenty-two and more and more families of SED kids are taking advantage of this but that doesn’t mean they should be placed at XXXX XXXXXX which until recently had just been designated for Intellectually Disabled children but it gets even worse. When it was pointed out that the center school doesn’t offer services like mental health counseling the district told the school to just rewrite the IEPs which totally circumnavigates the IEP process, I was later told that the district asked the school to contact the parents to ask them if they could rewrite the IEP which is a distinction with just a minor difference. The district told Ed White to do the same thing two years ago when I complained about city year volunteers being used as co-teachers. Dozens of IEPs were rewrote to eliminate co-teaching services.

Wait there is more. In the last contract negotiation teachers of ASD or autism were promised a twenty-five hundred dollar bonus and friends believe me that just scratches the surface of what they are worth as those are probably the most difficult classes in the entire county to teach. The district however made this promise with a caveat and that’s teachers have to be certified in autism.

Here is the rub getting certified in autism isn’t like getting certified in most subjects where you just have to take and pass a test. One of the teachers at XXXX XXXXXX told me they have to take four college classes at a minimum and they were spending twenty-thousand dollars to get a masters so they could get a 2,500 dollar bonus.

Two things nobody chooses to teach out of field, they are asked to and if these teachers and others throughout the county are going to put their careers and sometimes their physical safety on the line they should see the bonus.

Duval County narrowly survived an investigation from the state two years ago which saw the head of ESE promoted not disciplined and since past is definitely prologue it doesn’t look like we have learned much.

Comparing Pratt-Dannals to Vitti (rough draft)

Towards the end of the Pratt Dannals era as superintendent, discipline was bad, teacher morale was poor, the super would hire people based on personal loyalty to him not being able to do the job, we were testing way to much and teachers were slammed with ridiculous mandates from the state and we had something like 12 charter schools.

Fast forward to today as superintendent Vitti finishes his third year, discipline is worse, teacher morale is even poorer, the superintendent hires people based on personal loyalty to him rather than the ability to do the job, we are testing way to much and where teachers are not slammed with as many ridiculous mandates, the amount of charter schools has more than trippled.

For all Pratt Dannals flaws he never routinely beat up teachers nor did he disparage the district. Vitti on the other hand routinely disparages teachers and he recently said the district was dying on the vine.

Pratt-Dannals embraced the ridiculousness of the state, who remembers those complicated board configurations we had to make or all the other BS we had to put up. Teachers spent a ton of time on things other than teaching and students. Pratt-Dannals administration spent millions on consultants and turn around specialists that made more work for teachers and would often tell them what they already new.

Vitti on the other hand has had an obsession with technology, he wants the latest shiny toy or program in the classroom and it doesn't matter if teachers are trained on them or if they are effective or not. Vitti has also embraced the city's elite, many of who have charter school interests or would privatize our schools given the chance, using their ideas and even outsourcing a lot of things to them through their pet group the Jacksonville Public Education Fund.

Pratt-Dannals didn't really seem to have any ideas, where Vitti has tons of them, some he implements half heatedly others he just throws out there half heatedly to see if they will stick.

Under Pratt-Dannals the state said we were a B district and under Vitti we have been straight Cs.

At the end of the day I don't believe for one second that we are dying on the vine but I wouldn't want a return of Pratt-Dannals either. Sadly quality leadership is something we have been lacking for going on a decade now and it definitely shows.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

WJCT once again shows open disdain towards public education.

I get it, those are strong words, but lets look at my evidence. Last year they honored Gary Chartrand and despite his position on the state board of education there is no bigger foe to public education around, then this year they decided to follow up that travesty by honoring Janet Adkins.

Adkins has a long history of being ignorant, misinformed and anti-public education and this is who WJCT chooses to celebrate.

Here she says her son didn't have a problem with the FSA so there can't be any problems.

Here she dismisses professional educators.

Here she fundamentally misses the point about a requested pause in the accountability measures and gives teachers a little dig too.

Here she is misinformed or deceptive neither a good quality for an elected official to have.

Here is just some stunning hypocrisy.

And I could go on and on and on too, just type Janet Adkins in the search box and prepare to be outraged and once again, this is who WJCT chooses to celebrate.

Then out of their five honorees only one is a teacher, now some of the others look like they are doing some nice things but for WJCT to so dismiss the role and job of teachers in something they call the American Graduate Champion is pretty disgusting.

WJCT continues to disappoint.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Vitti tries to make the distinction between crimes and discipline violations

However it is a distinction without a difference. If any student committed the following offences reported by channel 4 at the mall or at a grocery store or anywhere but at school then they would have been crimes.

From News4Jax:  News4Jax obtained a list of Level 3 and 4 infractions of the Code of Conduct in the school district over the past two years. These result in transfer to alternative schools, expulsion and, sometimes, criminal charges. 

For example, battery on employees by students increased from 59 in the 2013-2014 school year to 90 in the past school year.
In what the Code of Conduct calls a major disorder -- a large fight -- there were 130 more last school year than the year before.
Physical sexual harassment incidents increased to 57 cases last year from 14 the year before.
There was also big increase in lewd and offensive incidents involving students on students -- 342 last year compared to 148 the year before.
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti was quick to point out that many of these incidents are not crimes, just violations of discipline. He also said the numbers were higher because the school district is cracking down and requiring the schools to report these incidents.
I don't think it is lord of the flies at most of our schools but I do believe and most staff I have talked to agree that Vitti's policies have made discipline which quite frankly wasn't good before he arrived, worse.  
As for his assertion schools are cracking down, I have to say I have heard the exact opposite is true and many offences go ignored and unprocessed, and kids don't receive anything approaching a consequence. 
Discipline is hard but its made harder when we replace consequences with feel good policies that send the wrong lesson and make it so teachers are afraid to write referrals. two hallmarks under Vitti's watch.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Why it is impossible to trust Vitti's leadership

Remember a year and a half ago when Vitti said we had to have open enrollment to save the district? Yeah what happened to that. 

Read what Vitti said yesterday in the Times Union: I’m not going into this process believing everything in the recommendations needs to be done,” he said. “But my responsibility as superintendent is to be proactive regarding the short-term and long-term challenges... This is an opportunity for us to leverage our buildings, to not give them to a charter school and not sell our properties and land.”

He said, I’m not going into this process believing everything in the recommendations needs to be done.

Then what the hell is he doing? Just spit balling ideas? Throwing paint against the wall and hoping something sticks? Wouldn't it be nice to know which ideas he thinks we desperately have to see come true and which ideas he was just messing with us with. How can we take anything he says seriously knowing that?

Leadership is not throwing a bunch of crap out there to see what you can get away with.  Leadership is also not fear mongering, and that's what the second part of his statement was. 

 News flash we do have issues, but they are fixable issues, and our school system is not dying on the vine, but what we desperately need is leadership and if Vitti thinks our district is dying and he can't provide the leadership we need then it is time he looked for employment elsewhere.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

People are voting with their feet against Vitti's leadership

From a reader

In 2013, we went into Vitti's first full year as Superintendent. He was surprised to see enrollment 2000+ over projections. I said then that was the community wanting their children in our public schools and giving him a chance. 

Since then, Duval schools have gone back into decline. People are voting with their children's feet about their confidence in DCPS. Vitti has some good ideas and has a good sense of the environment of school choice and charters when he tells us we need to market ourselves. But he never sticks to anything long enough to see if it works. 

Yes, we have a new & improved laundry powder, but when the number of washes in the city doesn't go up fast enough, Vitti wants to change the laundry powder to an auto wash, then a nutrition drink, then baby formula, then an asphalt treatment. Wait, what? the city goes. 

We can never count on consistency or stability from this man. His leadership is unstable and unviable. He is on the usual trajectory--midway through his term he now has the Board and community expressing dissatisfaction. But I tremble at the continuing damage that will take place as the cycle runs its course and we search for a new superintendent to take over in 2019.

Vitti lays it on think in an effort to salvage his plans.

Both the school board and the community are pushing back against Superintendent Vitti's ideas to fundamentally change many of the districts schools.

In an attempt to regain traction he laid it on pretty thick.

From the Times Union:  Vitti proposed the changes be phased in during the next school year, but the School Board and various “working groups” may push some or all those plans back to the 2017-18 school year. The School Board plans to re-set its deadline to vote on the changes to June, instead of February, to give the “working groups” and the public more time.
Vitti warned the School Board not to lose the opportunity to reshape the schools, most of which have such low scores that the state could decide to turn them over to a charter or private operator in a few years if they don’t change, he said.
The district also can’t build new schools in its fast-growing neighborhoods because those in declining neighborhoods have low utilization, he added; 41 percent of Duval’s schools are below 75 percent utilized and 11 percent are below 50 percent.
Vitti said he wants to fill those seats by giving parents and students more educational choices. The district loses more than 12,000 students and $50 million a year to charter schools, he said.
“This is about the long-term viability for traditional public schools, “ he said. “We are dying on the vine.”
First it is almost comical that he laments about charter schools when much of the damage they have done has happened on his watch. This isn't to say we don't have hard choices to make in the upcoming years but he's a big reason where we find ourselves and I think step one for him should be to stop digging.

The community and apparently at least a few members of the school board understand that what we want is for us to fix the problems in our schools not for him to blow things up.

I wrote below a few weeks ago and it shows that he just doesn't get it.

Vitti fundamentally misunderstands why families are leaving for charter schools (rough draft)

 For a guy that likes to remind us he went to Harvard Vitti often just doesn’t get it.  He fundamentally misunderstands why families are leaving for charter schools though I think them leaving for the surrounding counties is a bigger problem, counties by the way that have very little in the form of charter schools..

The superintendent thinks if he creates more magnets and more choice options kids will return from charter schools but the reason families are leaving for charter schools isn’t about magnets or choices it is because charters are public schools with a private school field and they aren’t district run. People are over the district and that is both fair and unfair.

Think about it. Very few charter schools are innovative and offer special programs, though supposedly that is why they were created, and none of the local charter schools can compare with the district magnets and many of the neighborhood schools but parents are electing to send their children to them anyways. Why is that? 

They hear in the checkout lines at Publix how miserable and unsupported many teachers are, they see on television all the violence in our schools and they are bombarded by stories about inappropriate relationships between teachers and students and the the district disciplining teachers. Some families think they can escape common core or testing or they have bought the hype that public schools or failing a sentiment pushed by people who profit off of the destruction of public schools. Then they see and hear about all his plans and it reeks of desperation.  Better academics and specialized programs for the most part has little to do with them leaving.  

Instead of blowing the district up and I like some of the ideas, Vitti and the district should just go back to the basics, which is something we have sadly never tried. Let’s have disciplined schools and respected and supported teachers, those two things alone would lead to incredible improvement and those things not a 6-12 military magnet or a medical middle school or most of Vitti’s ideas will bring kids back.

It’s not a lack of choice sir, it’s they just don’t like the district and all the magnets or special programs in the world is not going to change that. Give them a safe school with a happy and supported staff and watch them return in droves.