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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

If Betsy Devos's plagiarism doesn't disqualify her, what would?

Normally I would write something like, she must know where the bodies are buried or have pictures of politicians with a live girl or a dead boy but we all know how she got where she is and that's the old fashioned way, she spent 200 million dollars and bought her nomination.

Even though unqualified zealots running education is right up my literary alley I haven't written much about Mrs. Devos because quite frankly her short comings and lack of qualifications are common knowledge, and where I know most republican senators salivate at the words voucher and charters I figured there were a half dozen or so who wouldn't vote for perhaps the most unqualified nominee of any type in the modern era. 

I was concerned but I wasn't super concerned until today that is when along party lines the Senate committee vetting her passed her to the entire senate for a vote and they did so even after allegations about plagiarism came to light.


Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat fighting Betsy DeVos' nomination to become education secretary, said Tuesday she is reviewing written answers the Michigan billionaire provided to the Senate that may include plagiarized material.
DeVos was approved by a Senate committee vote -- twice -- despite Democratic efforts to derail her confirmation process. The vote came after The Washington Post reported that DeVos had appeared to plagiarize answers she submitted to the panel.
Murray, whose questions spurred the plagiarism allegations, said at the Senate hearing that it appears the Michigan Republican's responses were "copied and pasted from previous statements, or are simple reiterations of the law and not true responses at all."
I get it the right likes vouchers, charters and money, but to nominate somebody so unqualified and with so many questionable entanglements is an affront not just to education but decency. Shame.  

And once again I have to ask, if plagiarism on top of everything else isn't enough to disqualify her, then what would be?

On a side note, I almost felt bad for Lamar Alexander who said, since she really cares about kids she would make a great secretary of education, Is that litmus test to get the job? Since I have watched ever episode of Law and Order multiple times, if I paid enough, could I be a supreme court justice o attorney general? He permanently diminished himself to all but the most rabid conservatives and destroyed all future credibility is a single breath. This albatross of a nomination will be his legacy.  

Nothing Trey Csar nor the Jacksonville Public Education fund says, can be taken seriously.

Sigh, I wish it wasn't so. I wish we did have an independent organization that was dedicated to helping our public schools but sadly JPEF isn't it. They have a financial stake in convincing the people of Jacksonville that our schools are doing well as where the district stops and they start has become increasingly blurred. They must have been very nervous last fall when the supers job was on the line because they probably would have had to hit the road with him.

From the Times Union

  Public perception about the School Board’s performance and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s performace — as very or somewhat effective — fell slightly, about 2 percentage points down from last year, but that was still within the margin of error. More than half all adults felt that Vitti and the School Board are effective.

Um what? Who are they taking to? They may have reached out to the only 256 people in the city who finds the board and super effective. Did they use the Super and Trey Csars Rolodex to find who they would survey? Did they talk to anybody who was aware of what happened last fall?

I don't want to say everything JPEF does is bad, they have done teacher round tables and held discussion groups which are valuable, though everyone I went to left possibilities on the table but make no mistake their agenda is to privatize our schools, to give them over to vouchers and charters and what's worse is they know, like the Super does that the charters in Duval when compared to public schools grossly under perform.  

Furthermore where we should acknowledge our rising graduation rates, we shouldn't be throwing parades like Csar suggest quite yet.


"There is, in Jacksonville, a cultural bias against improving public schools," Csar added. "There is a community belief that our public schools are not improving and I think when you look at measures like the graduation rate, that is demonstrably not true."

DCPS had a 79% graduation rate in the 2015-16 school years, while those who were polled thought it was at 62% on average. A similar trend took place the year prior when the actual was at 77% and the perception was 61% on average.

Um do you know where else graduation rates are up, why that would be everywhere and by the way my high school teacher friends tell me they are often cajoled I am surprised our graduation rate isn't 99 percent. 

The reality is we a have a lot of great things going on in Duval, thousands of amazing teachers and tens of thousands of amazing students, we even have a couple board members worth their salt too, but I firmly believe that our teachers and students are succeeding in despite of the super and administration not because of them, and I likewise believe, JPEF should go all in for our public schools, or step aside. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

There is no reason to put prayer back in school, heck I pray all the time.

Religious Zealot and state representative Kim Daniels is attempting to put prayer back in school. I guess we'll handle that pesky poverty problem next week.

The think Mrs. Daniels doesn't get is there is a lot of prayer going on in schools already, heck I pray all the time.

I pray little Johnny won’t show up so I can teach.

I pray little Suzie makes even the slightest bit of effort.

I pray my administration will back me up if there is a problem.

I pray the crazy parent doesn’t blame me for failing their child. I pray they understand that rarely coming, doing no work and disrupting class is grounds for failure. I pray my administration understands that too.

I pray that when my vice principal walks in she is more concerned with my teaching than my standards based bulletin board.

I pray my family understands that I have more work than I can possibly do in the day and I will make up the time I am missing with them when I can.

I pray downtown realizes that teaching kids things like discipline and a work ethic is more important than just passing them through to keep up the districts numbers. I pray they realize teachers are valuable assets not easily replaceable cogs.

I pray Tallahassee leaves education alone. They have done enough damage.

I pray President Trump can find a person  other than Betsy DeVos the most unqualified candidate ever to run the department of education. Sir, I know she gave you a ton of money, but educating our kids not rewarding her should be your top priority.

I pray society understands that closing schools and privatizing education is not the answer and investing in education is. I also pray they stop blaming teachers for societies ills and will realize we have to stop ignoring and finally address poverty f we want to see real improvement.

I pray wall street types and hedge fund managers, you know those behind the wave of charter schools, virtual schools and voucher legislation grow a conscience and realize our children are more important than filling their wallets.

Yeah, I pray in school all the time. There is no way I could get through the day without doing so.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The conservative attack on teaching begins anew in Tallahassee

There are two hundred teacher openings in Duval and thousands across the state. Fewer and fewer people are going into education as more and more people retire or leave the profession. Teachers are overworked, under paid, put in positions where success is hard to achieve and blamed for many of societies ills. We don't have a looming crisis, we have a current one.    

So what's Tallahassee's solution? Well at least one conservative member of the House of Representatives wants to further injure the profession by stripping away districts ability to give continuing contracts to effective and highly effective teachers (something Duval by the way does not guarantee). 

From the Tampa Times

State Rep. Michael Grant, a Port Charlotte Republican, filed a bill Monday to bar the practice that several districts, including Pinellas County, have adopted.
HB 373 would provide that school boards may not award an annual contract "on the basis of any contingency or condition not expressly authorized." Boards also would be barred from altering or limiting their authority in granting annual contracts beyond the provisions in law. The measure would apply to collectively bargained contracts only.
I always find it interesting too, that Republicans claim to be the champions of home rule but continuously tell Districts what they can and cannot do.
I don't want to be to critical of the republican leadership in Tallahassee because after years of a failed testing agenda there have been signs that the legislature is going to dial it back. My concern however is who is going to be left to teach if this assault on teachers continues.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

President Trump says our public schools are flush with cash, um come on man!

From the Gadfly on the wall blog

Donald Trump lies.
If you haven’t learned that yet, America, you’ve got four more cringe-inducing years to do so.
Even in his inaugural address, he couldn’t help but let loose a whooper about US public schools.
“Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves,” he said. “But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. … An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”
To which nearly every poor, nonwhite public school parent, student and teacher in the country replied, “What’s that heck did he just say now!?”
Los Angeles Unified School district routinely has broken desks and chairs, missing ceiling tiles, damaged flooring, broken sprinklers, damaged lunch tables and broken toilet paper dispensers.
They’re flush with cash!?
New York City public schools removed more than 160 toxic light fixtures containing polychlorinated biphenyls, a cancer causing agent that also hinders cognitive and neurological development. Yet many schools are still waiting on a fix, especially those serving minority students.
They’re flush with cash!?
At Charles L. Spain school in Detroit, the air vents are so warped and moldy, turning on the heat brings a rancid stench. Water drips from a leaky roof into the gym, warping the floor tiles. Cockroaches literally scurry around some children’s classrooms until they are squashed by student volunteers.
They’re flush with freakin cash!?
Are you serious, Donald Trump!?
And this same picture is repeated at thousands of public schools across the nation especially in impoverished neighborhoods. Especially in communities serving a disproportionate number of black, Latino or other minority students.
In predominantly white, upper class neighborhoods, the schools often ARE “flush with cash.” Olympic size swimming pools, pristine bathrooms – heck – air conditioning! But in another America across the tracks, schools are defunded, ignored and left to rot.
A full 35 states provide less overall state funding for education today than they did in 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which focuses on reducing poverty and inequality. Most states still haven’t recovered from George W. Bush’s Great Recession and the subsequent state and local budget cuts it caused. In fact, over the same period, per pupil funding fell in 27 states and still hasn’t recovered.
And the federal government has done little to help alleviate the situation. Since 2011, spending on major K-12 programs – including Title I grants for underprivileged students and special education – has been basically flat.
The problem is further exacerbated by the incredibly backward way we allocate funding at the local level which bears the majority of the cost of education.
While most advanced countries divide their school dollars evenly between students, the United States does not. Some students get more, some get less. It all depends on local wealth.
The average per pupil expenditure for U.S. secondary students is $12,731. But that figure is deceiving. It is an average. Some kids get much more. Many get much less. It all depends on where you live. If your home is in a rich neighborhood, more money is spent on your education than if you live in a poor neighborhood.
The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world – if not probably the ONLY country – that funds schools based largely on local taxes. Other developed nations either equalize funding or provide extra money for kids in need. In the Netherlands, for example, national funding is provided to all schools based on the number of pupils enrolled. But for every guilder allocated to a middle-class Dutch child, 1.25 guilders are allocated for a lower-class child and 1.9 guilders for a minority child – exactly the opposite of the situation in the U.S.
So, no. Our schools are not “flush with cash.” Just the opposite in many cases.
�But what about Trump’s other claim – the much touted narrative of failing schools?
Trump says our schools “leave… our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”
Not true.
Graduation rates are at an all-time high of 83.2 percent. Moreover, for the first time minority students are catching up with their white counterparts.
It’s only international comparisons of standardized test scores that support this popular myth of academic failure. And, frankly, even that is based on a warped and unfair reading of those results.
It depends on how you interpret the data.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Betsy Devos is far from the best and brightest

Tonight, Betsy DeVos refused to commit to enforcing the law to protect students with disabilities, and didn’t seem to know that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law. The U.S. Secretary of Education must know and promise to defend the rights of all students, including those who experience disabilities, and my concerns about Mrs. DeVos’s suitability to lead the Department of Education are only heightened after tonight’s hearing.- Senator Maggie hassan

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Superintendent Vitti blows off teacher openings

From the Times Union

“Vacancies have always been a challenge,” Vitti said. “The numbers are not significantly different than they have been in the last couple of years. I don’t think we need to be sounding five alarms over it.”

Um, this is the same guy who created an entire school to service one of his children. Must be nice to be the boss right. Who wants to bet none of his children have had a long time substitute or even a Teach for America teacher?

Superintendent Vitti, instead of blowing the problem off the correct response is, any opening pains us and we are working around the clock to fill them.

Oy vey


Monday, January 9, 2017

Elizabeth Warren's letter to Betsy DeVos the most unqualified secretary of education nomination in history

"There is no precedent for an Education Department Secretary nominee with your lack of experience in public education."

Duval is a district in big trouble. *updated*

Recently the Times Union printed a piece that superintendent Vitti wrote talking about our increased graduation rates. Likewise, this was cited by the Times Union’s editors when they were urging the board to keep the Superintendent last fall. Neither piece however noted that graduation rates are up nearly everywhere across the country.

Nevertheless, we should acknowledge and even celebrate our rising graduation rates but I believe they only tell part of the story.

The other part of the story is that we annually replace about fifteen percent of our teachers, fifty-one percent of our teachers are considered chronically absent and we currently have ten pages of openings. To give you some scale the Palm Beach school’s system which is twice our size only has three pages of openings. These are all signs of a district in big trouble.

Furthermore, the district has to replace about a hundred Teach for America teachers annually.  If you didn’t know it, Teach for America takes non-education majors, puts the through a six week course and then into our classrooms, where most stay two years or less. As a bonus the program is very expensive as well.

So a rising graduation rate is part of a story, another part is marginalized and overworked teachers, fewer and fewer wanting to make education a career and a constant churn of the staff. If we are going to give Vitti credit for the increased graduation rates, we must give him credit for those things as well.

Finally, I submit, we will never reach our potential as a school district if those in charge don’t treat teachers like the professionals that they are.

To see the job openings for Duval, open the link
Then scroll down to current vacancies and open the excel sheet

To see the openings for Palm Beach, click the link

The district asked me to put this up, I have not verified it.
  • According to DCPS, only .3% currently separates Duval County Public Schools anPalm Beach County School District in terms of teacher vacancies as a percentage of total number of teachers. Vacancies Since Winter Break: Duval County Public Schools - 1.3% and Palm Beach County School District - 1.1%.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Duval's teacher absenteeism problem.

Teachers missing ten or more days are considered chronically absentee. Full disclosure this is my sixteenth year and I was probably chronically absent at least ten times. Once because of an illness and another time because of an injury but when I was younger I wouldn't carry any days over. I figured if they gave me ten I was going to miss ten.

Enough about me.

Nationally about 27 percent of teachers are chronically absent. In the state of Florida that jumps to 39 percent and I was told that in Duval that  number climbs all the way to 51 percent. Over half our of our teachers are considered chronically absent. Here is the thing, when I was told that I replied, it's that low? Thinking the number would be much higher.

Now I don't think for a second that this is a symptom of a staff that doesn't care. I think it is a symptom about how the district is run.

When a teacher feels hopeless, or over worked or marginalized or disrespected or overwhelmed or insert a dozen other feelings that teachers in Duval routinely go through then they are going to miss days and I don't blame them one bit. They have to sacrifice a day to be able to work ten or fifteen others.

I think it's also a symptom that Duval has embraced the transient nature of teaching in today's age. If you only plan to teach for a year or two, then missing a day becomes that much easier, especially since the district doesn't pay out full price when you sell them back.

I was told as much by the superintendent a while back. In so many words he said people don't want to teach for a career, they want to do it for a few years and them move along. The causal acceptance of this I believe plays a roll in chronic absenteeism. teachers think, hey is I am just going to do it for a year or two, I might as well use all my days and apparently in some cases and then some.

Then newer teachers have it rough, imagine doing the alternative certification and trying to teach. I can't. When I did it, it was basically ten two or three paragraph reports that you were capable of doing in a couple afternoons. Now it is a full workload, it's like a full time semester in college. I get it we want teachers to be prepared but we should want them to return for year two as well.

We should require new teachers to have a few days out of the classroom where they just come to work and observe veteran teachers or give them time to work on lesson plans so they don't get burned out but instead as often as not they get the hardest classes with the hardest kids. It's almost like we want them to fail.

Then there is teach for America. Instead of spending millions on recruiting veteran teachers or people who might spend more than just a year or two in the classroom. We spend millions to recruit these college kids, non education majors who with the barest of training say, I'll give that a try. How many of them are selling hours back at sixty percent after their two years are up? My bet is not many.

When we overwork our young teachers and don't respect experience that's a recipe for a 51 percent chronic absenteeism sandwich.

We have a problem with teacher absenteeism which is bad for our kids but it's the system of overworking and marginalizing teachers as well as devaluing experience that is to blame and that didn't originate in the classroom, that came from downtown.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Who will be grading our kids tests? Prepare to be disappointed in 3,2...

An advertisement running in the Tampa Times, notice no experience necessary.

No automatic alt text available.

Education should be about making snowflakes not ice cubes

From the Salt lake Tribune, by Lynn Stoddard and Jim Strickland

Are American students treated like ice cubes or snowflakes? In discussing the kinds of crystals created from the simple process of water freezing, James Gleick in his book, "Chaos: Making a New Science," compares the formation of ice cubes with that of snowflakes: "When solidification proceeds from outside to inside, as in an ice tray, the boundary generally remains stable and smooth... But when a crystal solidifies outward from an initial seed — as a snowflake does, grabbing water molecules while it falls through the moisture-laden air — the process becomes unstable ... new branches form, and then sub branches ... The final flake records the history of all the changing weather conditions it has experienced, and the combinations may as well be infinite."
The process of freezing from the "outside in" compared to crystallizing from the "inside out" produces dramatically different results.
A snowflake is a good example of individuality and intricate beauty that naturally develops in an atmosphere of freedom. You cannot "mold" a snowflake, but only create the conditions where it can grow. "You can teach only by creating an urge to know." (Victor Weisskopf )
What we often find happening in schools is that educators love to talk the talk of snowflakes — every child a unique and precious individual, while continuing to walk the walk of ice cubes — every child molded to fit a uniform pattern. The emergent nature of a more student-centered approach to education requires that we relinquish our obsession with controlling the end results and support the unique pattern of each individual child to develop. This demands trust in growth, respect for the child, and faith in the process.
Do we have the moral and political will to develop atmospheres that truly nurture positive human differences?
All over America there are outstanding teachers who swim against the current of an imposed curriculum in order to help students develop like snowflakes. David was a student who had a lifelong dream of becoming a firefighter. Since none of his required courses seemed to fit into what he needed, he became disenchanted with school and began missing classes.
A caring and perceptive teacher saw what was happening and arranged with the local fire chief and school administration for David to spend time learning from the firefighters at the nearby station. To make a long story short, David got the education he needed without graduating from high school and went on to become a highly qualified firefighter and fire safety specialist.
The sad part of this story is that the teacher who saved David and some others from falling through the cracks lost favor with rigid policymakers and curriculum specialists. He found the pressure to produce "ice cubes" too great, and so decided to resign and do other things. It was a tragic loss to the profession. How many students have suffered over the years because of the loss of creative teachers like this? How many adults have talents lying dormant inside of them because they attended a school system that was obsessed with having uniform graduation requirements?
We have a decision to make in American education. Are we going to continue trying to force young people into a standardized, uniform mold, or are we going to create the conditions for individual greatness to flourish? In other words, do we want ice cubes or snowflakes? Our answer makes all the difference.

Lynn Stoddard, a retired, long-time educator, argues for making curriculum fit a great variety of students. Jim Strickland is a teacher and advocate of Student Centered Education in Marysville, Wash.