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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Crony capitalism is alive and well in Floirda

The Florida legislature is preparing its annual budget and we should be alarmed by how much they are planning to allocate to charter schools.

The house is budgeting 90 million in construction and maintenance costs for the states 650 charter schools, many of which are managed by for profit companies. Since the facilities are privately held this is money the public will never recover if one of these charter schools fails which has already happened 313 times over the years in Florida, costing us hundreds of millions of dollars.

It’s not so baffling that we are giving these companies millions in extra money when you consider the hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions charter schools have given to the members of the legislature.

It however gets worse, at the same time the legislature is planning on giving charters 90 million it is planning to allocate only 50 million to the states 4,300 public schools. Furthermore since 2011 charters have received 326 million in maintenance funds while public schools have received barely over a hundred million.

Maybe this could be justified if charter schools as a group were doing better than public schools but they aren’t.

Isn’t it time we ended this crony capitalism and instead invested in our public schools? After all they are by far the better investment.

Typical teacher meetings

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Times Union's embarrassing privatization agenda

First read the article, then read my response and if you think I am out of line let me know.

Um this is what the Times Union is writing about? Not the embarrassing and inappropriate curriculum? Not discipline which has gotten worse? Not the micromanagement and intimidation of teachers?  Not the superintendent who is article trying to privatize our public schools? Not parents who aren't capable of helping their children? Not the millionaires who are buying our schools?



This is the letter I sent the "reporter".

Your last piece embarrassed me, all kids need is yellow sahes and certificates and they will be successful, oh wait how about putting them on medicine, giving them small classes and metal health counselors or you know the things I and other public school teachers have been advocating for, begging for, for years. 

If this kid would have had responsible parents and a school system with the resources it needs when he was in public school he would have been successful there too.

I doubt this kid is getting the same quality of education he would receive in public school, and your article should have been about how public schools are starved of resources.

I have to say the paper gets worse and worse with every article I read. 

And I am done, I will not help you with articles any more, I can no longer hope you and the Times Union get it together and put the city before your privatization agenda.

Chris Guerreri

We need a paper that is going to fight for our schools, unfortunately we do not have one.

Note: A reader said they felt I was being to hard on the parent. The article said now the child is on medication and getting counseling, which leads me to believe these are new developments.  At the end of the day though, what do I know? I imagine the mom feels overwhelmed and is doing the best she can. I wish them and all the children at Daniel nothing but the best. My heart aches for them and I hope so much for them.

That being said, this blog wasn't about Daniel it was about the Times Union supporting the privatization of our schools and make no mistake that is what is happening. Public schools are placed in no win situations and when they ultimately fail the Times Union goes, hey look over their the private sector has a school that is working.

The article was little more than an ad for a private school and one that takes McKay Scholarships and Personal Learning vouchers.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

I am going to go ahead and say it, it is time for Vitti to go (very rough draft)

This is what the chair of the Alachua county school board Eileen Roy said this week in a letter to the editor about the movement out of Tallahassee to privatization Florida’s public schools, and make no mistake that when Tallahassee says school choice what they really mean is privatization.

The Sun editorial (1/21/16) got it exactly right. The FL Legislature increasingly diverts funding away from public schools. The Corporate Tax Voucher Scholarship allows corporations a tax deductions if they donate an equal amount to private school scholarship vouchers. The state does not collect the tax revenue, reducing the amount of taxpayer money used to fund public schools.  As public schools lose state funding, they are weakened—insidiously and inexorably.

These private schools are completely unregulated—no teacher evaluations, no state tests, no proscribed curriculum, no certified teachers, no mandates—all of which are required of public schools.  Eighty-three percent of these private schools are religious.  Should taxpayer money be used to fund private schools or religious education?  If state testing is so important, why is it only required in public schools?

Here’s the scary part:  the Corporate Tax Voucher funding increases each year by 25%. This is exponential growth.  Initially capped at $50 million statewide, tax revenue diverted to vouchers has risen year by year to $558 million for school year 2016-17. By 2019-20 it will be over $1 billion– a billion dollars of taxpayer money diverted from public to private schools.

Initially, these scholarships were promoted for children in poverty, but the annual income level to participate has risen to $63,000 for a family of 4—allowing middle class families to enroll.
For- profit charter schools add to the draining of funding from public schools.  Florida has lost $70 million over the last 15 years due to charters closing and taking public investment in their facilities with them.  Seven schools in Alachua County have closed, costing taxpayers more than $1.2 million. This money, spent for rent, lease, or mortgage payments, cannot be recouped by the district after charters close.

The conclusion is inescapable. Florida legislators are steadily moving toward their ultimate goal–to privatize public education. The Southern Legal Council, a local non-profit law firm, is suing the state, challenging this injustice.  Please consider coming to a meeting to hear about this lawsuit.  The dates of several one-hour presentations at regional high schools are listed on the School Board’s website. Our public schools are in extreme danger.   

 As local parent and public school advocate Khanh-Lien Banko put it at the Jan. 19 School Board meeting, “We are in a dogfight for the soul of public education.”

This is what Superintendent Vitti said to First Coast News when asked about some school choice bills quickly moving through the Florida Legislature. "Would there be a detrimental effect on our budget? Likely. But I don't support or oppose legislation only on fiscal matters," said Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti.

Currently some districts have school choice for specific programs. There are two bills in the state House and Senate that would knock down county zone barriers, making it possible for parents to place their children in any school that has vacancies. Dr. Vitti supports the proposal. 

"Philosophically, I am supportive of it because I think parents should not be stuck in their neighborhood school. I think when we talk about certain parents who are stuck, we are usually talking about issues of class and social-economic status," said Vitti.

I submit the parents at the 313 failed charter schools wish they would have stuck with their neighborhood schools and in fact most parents would love their neighborhood schools if they were done correctly.

Also did you notice the difference? The chair of the Alachua County school board said, no more we must fight for our public schools and Superintendent Vitti said, I am all for the continued dismantling of them.

Since superintendent Vitti arrived a little over three years ago, he has embraced the corporate reform movement. He has partnered with the New Teacher project whose over arching philosophy is you can fire teachers to improvement. He has expanded Teach for America which takes non education majors puts them through a  six week boot camp and then in our neediest schools where the vast majority serve two years assuring constant churn and burn and Charter Schools have increased over three hundred percent from a little over ten to nearly forty.

It is no surprise Vitti loves charter schools either as the man responsible for bringing him to town, Gary Chartrand is also responsible for bringing the KIPP charter school to town, the same school, we gave 1.5 million dollars through a grant this past fall. Vitti often refers to it as a model charter school. Well according to the state its grades have been an F, lowest grade in northeast Florida, a miraculous B, a grade protected C (should have been a D but schools at te time could only drop one letter grade), another B and they are projected to make another D this year. This for a school that requires parents to be involved, has a longer school day and spends about a third more per child. Chartrand by the way has given thousands of dollars to most of the school board members too.  

Then has our district improved because of all of Vitti’s reforms? Some people say yes and point to our graduation rates which have gone up but do you know where else graduation rates have gone up? EVERYWHERE is where.

Teacher morale is rock bottom and they almost universally hate the curriculum, discipline is worse than ever, and if you want statistics, the state says we are a C district, we were a B before he arrived and the amount of failing and D schools have nearly doubled since he got here.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a leader which said our public schools are the best thing going in town and data says they are. Wouldn’t it be nice if Vitti was committed to doing things the right way by having supported teachers and disciplined schools?

Nope we get a guy that says, bring on privatization.

It’s shameful and its time the city said enough was enough.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Can republicans in Florida please stop pretending they care about local control?

Like I imagine many of you I don’t, I don’t always agree with my school board or superintendent. That being said, I would rather they be in charge of our schools than Tallahassee. Unfortunately the legislature in Tallahassee emboldened by hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from charter school companies is seeking to take away local school boards rights to manage our schools.

They are proposing a constitutional amendment that would allow the state rather than districts to authorize charter schools.

I personally believe charter schools already violate the constitution which calls for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education. Having two parallel schools systems one of public schools managed by local elected boards and one of for profit charter schools managed by privately appointed boards is neither uniform nor efficient. That issue will go to court in March.

Along with violating the constitution by chronically under funding and kneecapping the class size amendment the legislature now wants to usurp local school boards. Also from the constitution, The school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district and determine the rate of school district taxes within the limits prescribed herein.

It seems to me the republican dominated legislature only cares about local control when it doesn’t interfere with its donors and friends making money.

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund's one on one conference review, part 5, Final Thoughts

By Greg Sampson

JPEF: Some Final Thoughts

By the time the second breakout was over, most people had left. I too did not wait for the last wrap-up but left. I plan to attend in the future, but I will leave after the morning sessions are done. I encourage everyone to do the same.

The superintendent, JPEF high-ups, and Board members were long gone by the time the break-outs were over. Enough said?

The greatest failing of the conference was not giving the tables time to discuss the issues and provide feedback. The ratio of lecture to discussion was running about 8 to 1.

If they want to know how to start on time, I can give them some ideas. First, don’t beg people to get to their seats. Start the program. Start it. If that drum corps had marched into the ballroom promptly at 9 AM, people would have noticed. Also, cut off the food 15 minutes before. That clears out the line. With nothing else to do, people will drift into their places.

Finally, and again, we came with a lot to say. JPEF, you didn’t give us one-tenth the time we needed to say it. Do better in the future.

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund's one on one conference review, part 4, analysis and opinion.

By Greg Sampson
Jacksonville Public Education Fund 1 X 1 Conference
Analysis and Opinion

First, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. When it comes to the curriculum guides, especially the elementary ELA curriculum guides, the superintendent expressed in this forum what he previously said in others. So kwitcherbitchin’ teachers, he has committed to what he is doing and will not change course. (This is my analysis, not my opinion about the issue.)

You are in a Catch 22, elementary teachers. If you follow the curriculum and are successful as defined by test results, he will release you from the curriculum and you can do what you want. But then, if his curriculum made you successful (as defined by test scores), why would you change? As for those of you who are not successful, it is because you are not following the curriculum. Just do it!

Recess, anyone?

To place the emphasis on what needs it, I will put it in all caps. Mia Jones, District 14, Florida House of Representatives, warned us: PUBLIC EDUCATION IS REALLY UNDER ASSAULT.

From a woman who is serving on the legislative committees and has a first look at the new mischief Tallahassee plans: PUBLIC EDUCATION IS REALLY UNDER ASSAULT.

From there, I dismiss the pep rally feel JPEF tried to give the conference. We should not get caught up in such nonsense. There are real achievements to celebrate, but there are real battles to fight.

Take the celebration of the graduation rate. What nobody mentioned was the quotes from politicians leaking into the press that they think we are faking the graduation rate and they will do something about it.

Yes, you read that right. And you have concluded correctly. For those people, they know what they want to believe and will not let the facts get in their way. They have the power and will change the facts to fit their belief. Or pocketbook, depending how deep they are in with the hedge funds and charter school lobbyists.

But I digress.

It was a celebration of achievement. That is expected and should not detract from the opportunity to talk with people I would not otherwise have a chance to meet.

Other than the graduation rates, there was little hard data to support the applause taking place. Sorry, but discipline data is subject to great manipulation and cannot be trusted. I offered my observation that black boys are judged more critically than others when it comes to behavior in the schools, but I don’t think anyone listened. Indeed, I found many persons not knowledgeable about various measures such as ATOSS, which at my table was put forth as an alternative school like a charter. I had to explain it was a place where students suspended could go until their suspension was over.

The biggest criticism I can offer is that JPEF, the conference, Dr. Vitti (and by implication, the District) buys into the idea that the TEST SCORE defines all: good schools, great teachers, and the like. Everything in the end came down to how students scored on the test.

Once you realize that premise is false, the entire house of cards collapses. Goodbye, TNTP, you think a great teacher is someone who produces the highest test scores. Stupid. Your entire existence is based on that flaw.

Goodbye, TFA. Well, your people can’t even produce exceptional test scores because, well, first year teachers wherever they come from, are learning on the job and will take 3 to 5 years to gain effectiveness. But wait, your people leave after two years, and now you have the chutzpah to pay them to be coaches to your neophytes stepping into a classroom for the first time. Don’t believe me? Talk to TNTP (ha, ha!)

Everything is premised on the test. We have a job to do: to educate parents and our community about how bad the test is, how badly it is written, how it does not match the content we are told to teach, and how it is blighting their children’s futures and their souls.

Take away the test and the rest is meaningless as far as what took place at the conference. The focus went away from the stated theme: equity in education for all students.

Having said that, I was glad I went and will go again. We teachers are unhappy about how we are cut out of the discussion, how we are not listened to, and are marginalized. Opportunities like this should not be passed by.

Imagine if, when Dr. Vitti asked for teachers in the room to stand up, instead of 20 there were 200. 200 teachers in place, not pushing an agenda, but interacting with the community and telling their stories, explaining why the tests are destroying education and children, and driving the conversation where it needs to go.

JPEF is not the enemy. It pushes initiatives that we disagree with but it also supports policies that we want. We need to take advantage of these opportunities.

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund's one on one conference review, part 3, The New Teacher project takes over the district.

By Greg Sampson

JPEF One X One Conference: Breakout Sessions

There were 5: Getting Young Children Ready for School; Developing, Retaining and Empowering Great Teachers; Preparing Students for Success After High School; Social-Emotional Learning and Discipline Policies; and Testing & Accountability.

I was interested in 3 of them but could only go to 2: the second about great teachers, which I figured was about professional development; the SEL and discipline; and the testing sessions.

First I went to the Social-Emotional Learning Session. I was disappointed that they didn’t offer any knowledge or assistance. They spent the time explaining what they did and where they did it. While schools need to attend to the social and emotional needs of children, I found their presentation was more of a sales pitch than a sharing of professional knowledge.

We were tight on time. (More on that in my analysis post.) I allowed others to speak in the brief 7 minutes we were allowed a table discussion. When it ended, the volunteer at my table invited me to add my comments, which she would write down (dutifully?) on the Post-It Chart as she assured me the conference organizers would review all feedback given.

I said I needed at least 20 minutes to respond but I did say that the district had secured a grant to place a social worker and counselor in every middle school this year to attend to these needs of our students. I also took the opportunity to provide other feedback about the state accountability system—broken and needs to be recreated from the ground up and how teachers faced pressure to keep on the curriculum guides even when they realized the needs of students meant they needed to stop and take care of their students’ needs.

In other words, teachers can’t keep up with the pace demanded by district curriculum guides and if they addressed the needs in their classroom on any given day, that’s one more day they fall behind while facing pressure for catching up.

Then I went to the session on teacher quality, advertised on how to retain effective teachers.

Before then, during the AM table share-out, we were asked to say one thing we had learned. I made something up because I didn’t learn anything new in the AM (I do keep up), but the TNTP presentation … WOW. I learned how deeply TNTP has burrowed into this district and their mission philosophy has been adopted by the “powers-that-be.”

Before I begin, let me say that TNTP began as “The New Teachers Project.” For whatever reasons that made sense to them, they abandoned the words but retained the acronym as their brand. They are trying to create a new type of teacher, but don’t want anyone to know? Hmmmmm … maybe we can go by the first three letters—they are trying to blow up the teaching profession and to quote Harold Hill, they end with P and that rhymes with T and that stands for Trouble for Teachers.
The mission of TNTP as shared: ending the injustice of educational inequity by providing excellent teachers to students who need them most.  That’s my paraphrasing from my notes and I tried to Google them to give you their exact wording, but somehow that’s not available.

To push their mission, TNTP has 3 focuses (foci for my Latin teacher with whom I enjoy lunchroom conversations most days): rigorous academics, talented people, supportive environments.

In their DCPS work, it is number two that they are focused on. (Yes, I get the double entendre.)

The presentation trotted out the quoted-so-often-it’s-become-a-cliché mantra that the quality of the teacher is the number one factor in student learning. Then they described their work with the district.

Strategy One: Supply DCPS with strong, new teachers. That means helping DCPS hire better teachers than they have done in the past. The Big Idea that they shared was that the earlier a teacher was hired, the better the new teacher quality tended to be. “The best people, they want to know where they are going before graduation. You (DCPS) used to hire teachers in July. All the best candidates are gone by then. If you are a top college student, wouldn’t you find a job before you graduated? That’s how the charters get the best people. They recruit in November of the senior college year. We helped DCPS by getting you to go after them earlier in the year.” Also, “DTO gets first choice. They are allowed to recruit before other schools. That’s how DCPS is getting the best in front of the greatest need.” “The earlier the hire, the higher the quality and we have data to back that up.”

Good goggumugga! I admire how these people can keep a straight face. Now understand that this was my second breakout, and when I arrived, the people were too busy taking selfies with one another to get the second presentation underway. I had to ask someone if I was in the right place. They started 15 minutes late and were totally unconcerned about what they were supposed to do. When they cut their presentation off at the designated time, that they were not finished did not matter.

Thanks, TNTP, for telling us that we did not matter.

Strategy Two: Grow all teachers.

Cliché after cliché. I will spare you the tedium.

Strategy Three: Help schools keep their top teachers.

“Teacher retention is a big issue.”

“It is not a failure to retain teachers; it is the failure to retain the right teachers. Do we really want to keep the teachers who aren’t great?”

They presented nine strategies to retain great teachers that would not cost extra dollars. (So shut up, audience member, who offered the feedback that more money for teachers would keep the best teachers from leaving Duval County for other places that paid more.)

“A high percentage of low-performing teachers remain in the classroom.”

“What we ask: do they have the will or the skill to improve?”

“It takes 11 hires to find another great teacher to replace one who left.”

“We work with districts so they can identify among their applicants what teachers will become great.”

“Recruiting 2nd career teachers who will take a leave of absence from their chosen path to spend 5 or 10 years in a classroom is a great idea. Research has shown that such people produce learning gains over the College of Ed lifelong teacher.”

Let me make it clear. TNTP is driving district policy over the hiring and support of teachers. First, they think that great teachers are born, not made. They think our classrooms are filled with people punching a time clock that don’t give a hoot about their students. They whisper in the ears of our superintendent and his cabinet that if only, if ONLY, they could get the right people, the wicked Witch of the West would be melted, her sister long ago buried under a house, and the flying monkeys sent off to wherever. All would be right in Munchkin Land.

However, I live in Realville. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you want great teachers, you have to develop them. That takes a commitment to authentic professional development that this District refuses to adopt.

(And that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund's one on one conference review, part 2, The Panel Discussion

By Greg Sampson

One X One conference 2016
Part Two, Panel Discussion

When Dr. Vitti completed his presentation, he sat on stage with a panel moderated by the chair of NE Florida United Way. On the panel were a student, a teacher/parent, a parent/community member.

The student led off and asked the superintendent about teacher creativity in lessons given the new curriculum mandated and monitored by the district.

Vitti response (hereafter V:) We need the curriculum to match rigor to the standards (Florida standards, which are in essence Common Core—this parenthetical explanation is mine, not Vitti’s.) Individual teachers will have a hard time developing lessons on their own that will attain this level. When they teach the curriculum as written, they will automatically reach the level required by the standards. Teachers do have flexibility; teachers do improvise. As time goes on, the District will begin to differentiate among teachers who produced the desired results (high passing rate of FSA) and allow them to amend the curriculum in their classrooms. Teachers who do not do as well will have to follow what is set forth.

Teacher/parent: It is hard to follow a rigid timeline in the classroom. Students don’t relate to the content of the curriculum. Could we have courses that allow students to study their own cultures?

V: There is more flexibility to offer such courses in middle school and high school. Elective courses are needed to keep students engaged.

Parent/Community member: The superintendent is consistent in the message he brings. His answers do not change from place to place as the audience is different. As a member of the Jacksonville community, who hears from many people, I will raise their concern: boundaries matter. Why do some schools have resources while others lack, especially in the DTO schools (DTO schools are those in the special Quality Education for All initiative, essentially the schools that feed into Raines/Ribault/Jackson high schools)?

V: DTO gets substantially more resources than other schools in the District. For example, all DTO schools will have 1 to 1 technology by the fall. (This means there will be one computer for every student.) If parents have a concern that their children do not have a textbook for their grade level content areas, they should call the school, the principal, or me.

P/C: How do we get a school out of DTO? When do we figure it is successful? And will the larger salaries continue for the teachers who work there?

V: DTO schools follow research-based strategies and have reduced bureaucracy to deal with. For example, the regional superintendent, Iranetta Wright, does not report through the Chief of Schools; she reports directly to me. Some DTO schools are performing more highly than other schools in the district. We placed schools into DTO based on their feeder patterns (to Raines, Ribault, and Jackson). Some schools will exit the program. They will receive greater autonomy and flexibility at that point.

Teacher/parent asked about the boundary changes.

V: The proposed changes are across the district. We targeted schools with low enrollment based upon capacity. Our changes are for schools where over 50% of the students have left for other options: magnets, charters, home schooling, vouchers. We want children to return to their neighborhood schools. Increasing the utilization of available seats is important. We are prevented from building new schools in areas of population growth if we have under-utilization elsewhere. We can’t build new schools in Mandarin if we have seats available in Northwest Jacksonville. That gives the charter operators freedom to move into such areas as Mandarin and open new schools when we cannot.

The changes are also related to performance issues. We need to fundamentally restructure schools that are not performing (according to state tests). Saying we will try harder is not enough. Parents are leaving underperforming schools. Some schools are broken. We need to transform them so parents will buy back in and re-enroll their children.

For the most part, principal changes have settled. Things are stabilizing. There will be fewer changes in the future.

I didn’t write down who asked it, but the subject of school grades came up.

V: Give it time. At this moment, you cannot decide upon school performance based upon the grade. The state is undergoing a massive flux given the change in standards, tests, and performance levels. Eventually things will settle, hopefully, and when we again have consistency from year to year school grades will indicate the quality of a school. Until then, look at more things: the school culture, the relationships between children and adults, and the program offerings of the school when making a decision about what school is right for a child.

We were done. They released us to have discussions at our tables about the question of the conference—equity in education.

I didn’t keep notes when a few tables were randomly selected to report to the whole assembly, but I do remember that another table reported an issue I raised: given that we are going to online curriculums, where students do not receive a textbook, aren’t we creating inequity for students whose parent cannot afford a computer and/or an internet connection? Go to the library is not an acceptable answer given the cutback in library hours over the years, especially in the evenings and weekends, and the environment is not the same as a quiet place at home.

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund's one on one conference review, part 1

By Greg Sampson

One X One Conference 2016

As the day began, 500 were announced in attendance. The One X One conference, staged by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, kicked off around 9:15 AM with two enthusiastic emcees who had difficulty getting the attendees to get into their seats for the 9:00 AM starting time. But things soon got underway.

This is the first of several posts on the conference. In this one, I will try to be a good reporter and describe the events and what took place without analysis or opinion in the morning. In succeeding posts, I will offer my analysis and describe the breakout sessions in the afternoon.

Our local high schools were on display for particular strengths. Three culinary programs offered a complimentary breakfast: Terry Parker, Frank Peterson, and Raines. They had a competition that was judged by the head chef at the hotel. Terry Parker won and received a small trophy. Westside High presented the colors with their drumline for the obligatory Pledge of Allegiance.

During this time, event organizers tried to get attending students to sit at every table. Each tab le was facilitated by a City Year volunteer. At my table, the CYV got up and corralled two young men who attend the Butler Leadership Academy to join us. Other than that, the only other person at my table was a man who managed a nonprofit service agency providing afterschool services on the Westside. (As I looked around the room, I saw that most tables were not filled. Including the students, we only had 5 out of 10 seats filled at my table. The attendees were assigned to tables by the organizers. )

As the program began, we were welcomed by the Chair of the JPEF Board of Directors. During his brief intro, he cited the increase in the DCPS graduation rate of more than 20% in 6 years. This was the only accomplishment he mentioned.

Mia Jones, state legislator for District 14 in the Florida House, performed the invocation. She begged the indulgence of those present so she could go off her assigned role and thank a retired teacher in the room who had been influential in her life. Then she said, “I was thinking about what I should say as I drove back from Tallahassee last night after being in committee meetings all day. Public Education is really under assault.”

Trey Csar, President of JPEF, congratulated DCPS for achieving the highest graduation rate for African-Americans in 2015. (A lot of congratulations went on during this time: applaud this, applaud that person, high level backslapping needed the attendees to slap their hands together repeatedly, applaud yourselves …)

The theme of this year’s One by One, the fourth JPEF has organized, was equity. Not equality, but equity in that education should meet the needs of every individual student at a level of high quality. Dr. JeffriAnne Wilder, UNF, gave the keynote address, which focused on her research into the the career of W.E.B. Dubois, whose name she pronounced correctly, the staff member from Lenny Curry’s office who introduced her, did not—going with the standard French pronunciation of Du-Bwah, rather than the actual pronunciation of Du-boys, to show how persons of color have been overlooked for their achievements.

Then Dr. Vitti took the stage. He mentioned there was a friendly bet going on in the room whether he could stay within his time limit. (If you have ever been to a Vitti event, you will know that he will will take the microphone, a sip of water from a bottle handed to him, and talk for hours non-stop without taking a breath.)

Dr. Vitti recognized the district administrators and principals who were in the room. Then he acknowledged that they supported the real people who made it work in the classroom and asked teachers to stand up. There were around 20 of us.

The slide show began. Dr. Vitti acknowledged with a laugh that everyone knows he always has a slide show. The slides documented the progress and achievement of the District with data:

·         Increase in graduation rate, which is now closing in on the state average
·         Increase in total number of graduates, which means we aren’t achieving an increase in rate by manipulating numbers
·         Bridge to Success, the drop-back-in program increasing its success rate to 29% from 4%
·         First among urban districts for African-American grad rate
·         First among urban districts for English Language Learner grad rate
·         Rose to fifth out of the seven urban districts for Economically Disadvantaged grad rate (ED is determined by who is on the federal free or reduced lunch program, in which the price of their school meals is subsidized.)
·         Increase of 20 percentage points in the grad rate for students with disabilities (what most of us have traditionally called special education)
·         College readiness increase
·         Number of dual enrollment courses up to 10,229 from 6,871 when he arrived
·         Industry certifications earned by students increased
·         Scholarship dollars awarded to students up to $81 million from $31 million
·         NAEP results
·         Projected school grades
·         DTO teacher quality and investment in technology for those schools
·         Suspensions down, even for Hispanic and African-American students, and the gap in the rate of suspensions for such students vs. white students has narrowed
·         Restorative Justice programs handled 2000 cases
·         Increase in VPK reading and math achievement (measured by testing)
·         Increase in the diversity of school administrators

Dr. Vitti spoke about the challenge of individualizing/personalizing the education experience for each student versus the old way of the factory model in the classroom. He appealed to us to support school choice in differentiating the offerings of Duval County’s public schools to compete in the marketplace with the alternatives.

Following his presentation, Dr. Vitti sat on stage with a panel comprised of a parent, a student, and a community member, run by the head of the United Way of NE Florida.

I’m at 980 words, so I’ll break and post this. Part Two will follow. I don’t want to shortchange you from the panel interaction for fear exceeding the tolerance of blog readers for sheer number of words.

The Times Union's ham handed support of the district is offensive

By Bradford Hall

The Florida Times-Union is considered by many a very bias and lopsided press. After reading its latest editorial titled 'Duval school system's progress clear,' I furthermore believe the editorial staff is enthralled in a love affair with someone who is a fan of Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. As an education advocate, I commend the district for its successes but advocacy is bringing awareness to not only the things that make us look good but also championing best practices so we can eradicate those things not enabling total success.

The Times-Union unfairly bases this success on the graduation rate alone. Yes, more students are getting diplomas put into their hands. Great! However, one must stop to ask this most important question: What is the value of a Duval County Public Schools education?

In 2012-2013, the first year Vitti arrived, we had 38 D and F schools. One might consider it only fair to mention his transition into the superintendency as the reason for a double digit increase in D and F schools from the prior year. The problem is the increase in D and F schools have not stopped. In 2013-2014, there were 54 D and F schools, another double digit increase. And while only a single digit increase occurred for this latest school year with new FSA data, there is still an increasingly sad 59 D and F schools. While 23 D and F schools are no stranger to the North, the Northwest, and the East parts of Jacksonville, we have now seen alarming increases of D and F schools in other areas of town in the past two years. Arlington has 9 D and F schools. Southside and Mandarin areas have 5 D and F schools. The west side has a whopping 22 D and F schools. How far does failure spread before the Times-Union gets a clue and stops the madness misleading the public?

Pursuing this further, while we hear about the old "apples to oranges comparison" as an excuse for why our students struggle to read on grade level, I'll sure take the 2004-2005 school year days where we had 16 D and F schools. And yes that's still too many but better than 59. This community deserves to see a solid plan for how Dr. Vitti and his team of chiefs and assistant superintendents plan to improve the academic success of our students. This is the large elephant in the room that no one has addressed.

How offensive I find it that the Times-Union suggests that black students have an improved education because of an increase in the graduation rate.

Again, what's the quality of a DCPS education? Is it determined by the fact that only 35% of black students are reading on grade level, 18 percentage points lower than the district's 53% reading proficiency? We have great teachers and administrators in our schools who work tirelessly to educate every child. They do so under the micromanagement of the district's leadership. Principals have little control over their budgets. Some principals even complain about having to hire who the district tells them they can hire while being held accountable for the district's decisions.

Past School Board members have never been afraid to hold accountable district level administrators. What is going on with this current Board and their lack of questioning the Superintendent? We have too many schools missing the mark to believe everything is peaches and cream. Questioning the Superintendent, when appropriate, is a part of being an effective Board member. Supporting the Superintendent, when appropriate, is also a part of being an effective Board member.

I know it is re-election time but our children cannot afford to come second to political agendas. Remember this... Graduation rates cannot be the sole determinant for progress. Especially with... The number of D and F schools Arlington, 9 North/Northwest/East, 23 West, 22 South/Mandarin, 5

Friday, January 22, 2016

What passes for good policy in Duval County.

Oy Vey, we are in trouble. Dropped on teachers at the last second, though the super might say they asked for it.

 Good morning, 
Below you will find the instructions for accessing student essays for grades 4-5 for those schools that chose utilize the WritetoLearn program. 

The window for the writing portion of the FSA scrimmage closed on January 8th, 2016. Students will have until Friday, January 15th, 2016 to access their essays to assist teachers with addressing instructional implications and guiding students through the writing process to improve student writing. Please have students follow the steps below to access and print their essays. 

Students will: 
1) log in to Write to Learn and select their FSA scrimmage essay. 
2) highlight their entire essay within the essay text box and press Ctrl C to copy the essay. 
3) open a Microsoft Word document and press Ctrl V to paste the essay into the word document. 

In order to capture the student feedback, students must take a screen shot of the page by pressing Ctrl PrtSc and then pressing Ctrl V to paste the feedback into the Word document. As taking a screen shot of the student essay page will not show the entire student essay, it is essential that students follow steps one through three to capture their entire essay. Once all necessary components have been added to the word document, it is suggested that students print their essays. After January 15th, students will not be able to access their essays and feedback. 

Please note
* Students that did not receive a score have all been scored by the District 3-5 ELA team. 
**For students in grade 4, overall scores will follow a conversion based on the writing rubric comparison below.  The conversion chart can be used to determine the final score for students scoring between a one and a five.  Please note that the conversion was determined by randomly selecting students from each grade level and applying Florida’s Informative/Explanatory text-based writing rubric. 
Florida Rubric and WriteToLearn
College and Career Readiness Rubric Comparison

Language Arts Florida Standards Scoring
Purpose, Focus and Organization
Evidence and Elaboration
Conventions of Standard English





WriteToLearn Scoring
Task and Focus
Development of Ideas
Language and Style


Dr. Holli N. Fears
Director, Reading Language Arts
Educational Excellence! Every school. Every classroom. Every student. Every day!

From a  frustrated teacher
Did you get all that? She wanted us to have our students log back on, copy and paste their entire essays, and take multiple screenshots of the feedback. She also wanted us to print all of them out when only my laptop has the ability to print. Should I pass my laptop around to my ten year olds and let them do it? Is that what she wants? She gave us a week to do it in, but we actually only got two days since our useless reading specialist didn't bother to forward the message. We have between 40-50 kids assigned to each reading teacher and they gave us two days? Then she wanted the fourth grade teachers to convert their scores to the correct rubric because the district didn't bother to use the correct scale? The whole point of using the computer program was to save teachers from having to do extra work. Holli Fears is an embarrassment to an already embarrassing district. The circus continues.