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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.


  1. This needs to go to every school board member. Great letter and it speaks for many.

  2. Bravo to you for stating the facts. Math isn't much better either.

  3. I hope you forward this to the district. I teach 3rd ELA and it's very very similar. I have a principal who is still allowing me to what's best for students but I still have to put on the show for when the higher ups show up. Oh and I love how Dr Fears told us at Teachrr Academy that the district wouldn't police us. Ha!

  4. This applies to middle school ELA as well. We are policed, forced to follow a poorly constructed curriculum developed by unknown District specialists. We are rushed, blind-sided, and ignored. Incidentally, I work at a successful school. Rather than allow our admin and staff to continue our previous successes, the District seems hell-bent to drag us down. DTU, JPEF, the school board, esteemed members of the business community, and the media have placed their self-interest (being elected, keeping a job, moving ahead, being a team player) ahead of student/teacher success. Who would align oneself with vilified teachers and expect to succeed in this climate? Tragic.

  5. My Christmas wish....a DCPS School Board that will take an active stance in finding out what is really going on! We are in CRISIS and NO ONE, including the media, is willing to look into what is happening in classrooms everyday. WAKE UP CITIZENS OF DUVAL COUNTY!

  6. More HARD EVIDENCE we are being set up to fail.... the 3rd grade FSA reading test is scheduled for the FIRST DAY back from Spring Break! DCPS is given a window of dates to choose from for testing. By choosing this date, for first time high stakes test takers (3rd graders who fail the assessment FAIL THIRD GRADE) we are setting many students up for failure. MANY DCPS students do not have structure, routine, bedtimes, or proper meals when home for an extended amount of time. DID ANYONE SPEAK UP FOR OUR STUDENTS? ONCE AGAIN, DCPS you have CHOSEN to make things as difficult as possible!