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Friday, March 31, 2017

Detroit, you been talking to my boyfriend?

Hey Detroit, how you doing?

I see you asked our super to interview for the job. That's cool. We haven't been together for that long. Sure he said we would always be together but you know supers say "you're special" to everybody so we don't take it personally him stepping out.

After all you guys would be a great match, he loves charter schools, half your kids are in charter schools, that's probably where we were heading with him in charge, so he has lots of experience working with them.

I read you have problems with teacher morale too, well teacher morale here would skyrocket if you hired him, so if he left he could say, teachers haven't been this happy in years and it would be completely true. Think about it this way, you're doing us a favor, that's how we are thinking about it anyways.

Oh have you heard our graduation rates are up? I mean they are up everywhere but they are still up right. Oh they are the same as yours, well that's cool too.  

I know why you like him, he has a gift for gab and everything is always great, nothing is ever his fault either. He'll sweep you off your feet just be careful because the landing may be difficult.

The thing is he's a Michigan boy, you're in Michigan, it seems like a great fit. Florida with its mild temperatures and great attractions and larger salary never really seemed like a good fit for him.

Just wanted to say no hard feelings. We here in J-ville wish him and you nothing but the best.

A promising legislative session turns into another %$#^ show

I will admit, I was encouraged by this legislative session more than any other in memory. There were bills mandating recess, dramatically scaling back testing, increasing teacher pay and even putting some modest restrictions on charters. Sadly however most of those bills have petered out and the Florida legislative session has devolved into hurt kids, teachers and public education #$%^ show.

First there is recess which had 56 co-sponsors. With that many people behind it there was no way it could fail right? Well the house bill has gone from all elementary students getting 20 minutes of recess a day, to K-third grades getting it occasionally and to hell with 4th and 5th graders.  

Next there is a union busting bill that overwhelmingly passed in the house. It states that union with less than 5o % membership would have to decertify and thus end collective bargaining. Oh police, fire and correction officers would be exempt meaning the bill really just effects teachers unions. The house routinely passes bills that seek to harm the teaching profession.

Then despite the fact hundreds of charter schools have failed wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and throwing tens of thousands of students and their communities into disarray and the fact as a group they don’t do any better than public schools. The legislature is seeking to expand them. Talk about political donations in action.

When the Florida House Education Committee meets Thursday, it will take up a proposal that could dramatically change the face of the state's public school system, opening it to more charter schools.

Finally, at the beginning of the session there was a push to increase teacher salaries, well that has devolved into a fight on how much to fund the best and brightest bonuses. The universally reviled and embarrassing system that awards teachers’ money on not how they did in the classroom but on how they did on the SATs.

HB 7069 was fast-tracked to the floor in the past three weeks, with only two committee hearings. It's unclear how fast the House will take up the bill; it could be as early as next week.
The expansion proposal allows more "highly effective" teachers and — for the first time — principals to qualify for an annual bonus. Instead of only using on the teachers' SAT or ACT scores from high school, teachers could qualify next year by also using graduate school entrance exam scores, like the GRE or the LSAT.
Democrats on the Appropriations Committee said they still don’t like the premise of rewarding teachers based on assessment scores and they want the Legislature to use the additional funding to instead find a way to raise the salaries of all teachers.
“We just need to give our teachers raises and stop beating around the bush in how we do it,” said Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park.

You know because BS bonuses for some just aren’t going to do the job.

I want to remind you that republicans have controlled both branches in the legislature and governor’s mansion for over 20 years and for the last 15 or so have done all they can do damage public education. Isn’t it past time we said no more?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Atlantic Coast principal tells staff to get graduation numbers up, talks about losing money.

I will start by letting Debra Lynch, principal at Atlantic Coast High School, words do the talking for her.

It says right there and the implication is obvious, teachers lets get those graduation rates up or both the reputation of Atlantic Coast and your pay checks will suffer. I bet memos or conversations like this are taking place at high schools all across the county.

The pressure some teachers have told me they are put on is nearly unbearable especially for teachers not on a professional contract who are just year to year. Then to be honest with all the bending over backwards I am told teachers are required to do, I quite frankly am surprised our graduation rate isn't 90 percent or higher.

As frustrating as this is, what is more so is the system we have set up. Schools and  teachers are incentivized to do whatever it takes to have children graduate whether they are prepared or have earned it or not.  

Teachers shouldn't have to fight for bonuses, they should be paid a decent wage, and society and the media shouldn't be so obsessed with graduation rates and instead should be obsessed with children being prepared to be contributing and responsible adults, even if it takes them a little longer to get there.

I believe the vast majority of kids at Atlantic Coast and at all our schools in fact are getting a great education, but I also believe more than a few are just being pushed out so the district can look better and schools can get higher grades. I also believe the powers that be at the Ivory tower know about this, subtly encourage it and are more than okay with it too.

Debra Lynch and our school system in general were dealt a bad hand but shame on both for worrying about reputations, rather than worrying about what is best for teachers and students alike.

Here is the full memo.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Veteran teacher explains how Vitti made things worse

From a reader and a veteran teacher

Historically Teachers in Duval County have been ignored and not treated as the "Professionals" they are or should be. Vitti has taken to a new high! 

Those who are outside the profession that continually criticize and offer solutions have no experience in actual teaching but rely on their experiences there and if it those were good or bad. They when they are criticizing teachers call them professional but when it comes to listening to them they are not considered competent to have any say in how things are done in the Educational process. 

The history of Schools here in Duval County since the early sixties has been one of ups and downs, from becoming discredited to integration to improvement, to the change to Middle Schools and all that involved, to the changing thoughts of school choice and charter schools, not to mention the changes in evaluation and compensation of the Teachers including the loss of tenure. 

At one time the Union fought for the teachers and there was the time of cooperating with the Administration to show good will etc. That's where things are now and with the anti-teacher attitude of Vitti nothing will change until he is gone. 

He's received praise for championing the Arts and yet many of the classes are overloaded (loads of 50 to 60 students) and under funded. What kind of support is that? 

He's pushing so many changes that it's difficult to keep up with what school is for what. And he's pretty much undermined the Teacher's authority with his ideas of discipline. 

I could keep going on but it's flogging a dead horse, Perhaps it's time for the Teachers to "take action".

Veteran teacher gives his perspective of Vitti leaving

From a reader and veteran teacher

When Vitti first came on board he did some great things and I thought benefit of the doubt. 

Then fudged graduation numbers and you better not write referrals. Not to mention telling some of us on the Wednesday of pre-planning 3 years ago that we will have to implement a computer program as part of our curriculum then constantly changing the rules of how that program will be utilized. 

Real data shows that most admin spent 2 maybe 3 years in a classroom. They are so removed from that setting they don't know what's going on. Granted, I have met a few who get it but they have to walk a fine line. 

All of these business people need to stop dictating policy in how education should be run. Some teachers may think Vitti is good for the district and they are entitled to their opinion. I challenge those teachers to take a deeper look at what's really going on. 

Parents in the know also know what's really happening in the schools and I think they are finally tired of it. Watch out for a grassroots movement of parents fighting for the teachers and working to take back the schools.

Is Duval Cooking the Books with Graduation Rates?

Just a few weeks ago a principal at a charter school complained about how kids were counseled out of public schools to go to his school.

The state has also announced an investigation into districts after allegations that they had been cooking the books about graduation rates surfaced.

Then yesterday I received this comment which has echoed comments and tips I have received over the years.

From my principal's 3/17/17 weekly memo (insulting bribe):

"Counselors and administrators are working tirelessly to support students and help them graduate in June. Please be aware that their success in fulfilling graduation requirements not only affects their future but the reputation of {our school} as well. If we do not have a final push with teacher support for out seniors to graduate, our rate could be as low as 80% compared to last year's rate of 90%, which will negatively impact our school grade and reduce the chances of reaching our goal of "B" with recognition money...If grade recovery is needed for first semester, please work with the student to master those standards covered. A teacher may submit a grade change at any time, when the student shows mastery of the standards."

Wouldn't it be ironic that the one thing that the superintendent's supporters always point to, an increase in the graduation rates, happened because the district has been cooking the books.

Please contact me at cpgbonjovi@gmail,com, if you have any information you would be willing to share. I can keep all tips confidential. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Why superintendent Vitti is leaving (rough draft)

Why superintendent Vitti is leaving

It is true, he is from Detroit. He also may indeed have friends and family members there and I imagine for some there is always a call to return home. All that being said, something seems out of place.

Take for instance the huge pay cut. In Duval he makes 275 k. Detroit has a range for its superintendent that goes from 123-182k. A best he is facing a 90 thousand dollar pay cut.

Then look at his career progression, it’s been up, up and up. I never expected him to last this long, but being in Duval is his longest stop yet. Now I had expected him to leave by now but to go to the state as chancellor or maybe even commissioner. Detroit is definitely a step backwards. Forty-seven thousand kids compared to 120k in Duval and fifty fewer schools.

Sure, Detroit has challenges a mostly minority and poor make up but Duval has a mostly poor and minority make up too.

No, it has to be something else and here are some thoughts as to what it might be.

He may see the handwriting on the wall here in Jax. Despite the city’s elites rallying around him last fall he barely kept his job. I wondered at the time if he would be humbled by this experience or be emboldened by it. Well friends if he was humbled I have not seen it as things seem as contentious between him and the board as ever.  Then when the story broke at least three board members, Couch, Wright and Hershey all seemed to wish him well in his future endeavors, hardly the ringing endorsement of a job well done. Only Shine and Grymes seem broken up by him potentially leaving.

Then again, the board, the sensible part of the board that is, may just be tired of all the scandals. Just in the last year alone, Rachel Vitti following a sitting school board member, a police officer revealing the city has children baker acted to keep arrest record numbers low and a charter school principal complained about the district counseling out poor performers have rocked the city.  I have written how it is hard to understand how Vitti survived the last two.   

There may be bad news about to break. It was widely reported that DCPS did poorly on its mid-year scrimmage which was supposed to approximate how the district is going to do on the state test. The district explained it away as it does all bad news but it may have been a red flag for Vitti, that getting out before the results are in is his best move.

If we do get poor results the blame would have to be squarely in the superintendent’s shoulders as the curriculum we use, that uses handouts instead of books to save money, engage NY is almost universally reviled and is his baby.

Perhaps a scandal is about to hit the district. Whenever anybody defends Vitti, they always say, look at how the graduation rates are up. I believe this is intellectually dishonest because rates are up everywhere but maybe there is more to the story.
From the associated press: Florida’s education commissioner announced Wednesday that the state has launched an investigation into whether school districts are moving students around as part of an effort to manipulate graduation rates.
Commissioner Pam Stewart said that late last year the state began taking a closer look at students in 10 counties who were switching to alternative schools in their senior year but now the probe has been expanded statewide. The investigation will look at all students who were in the 12th grade but somehow weren’t included in data used to determine graduation rates.

I get tips regularly about how schools are manipulating their numbers but nobody will ever go on the record. This means all they are thus far is innuendo but wouldn’t it be ironic if the one thing that people point to as an indication of his success turns out to be fabricated?

So yes, he if from Detroit and home is often where the heart is, but at the same time, something seems off about him leaving.

That being said, I hope he gets the gig, good luck sir, may you find what you are looking for.

Another reason he might be leaving? It looks like because of global warming, Michigan will be the place to be.

Cheryl Grymes wants to throw Vitti a parade

In yesterday's... In yesterday's Times.. In Blech... sorry I just threw up in my mouth, okay better now.

In yesterday's Times Union, Cheryl Grymes is quoted saying, well let me just let her words do the talking for her.

From the Times Union:   Board member Cheryl Grimes said she is bothered that Vitti was not invited to Wednesday’s meeting. “Nothing has changed,” she said. “The superintendent is still the superintendent. He is still leading the district and still doing the work. So even though there’s this thing out there… I want to make sure we proceed as a team.”

She also said she wants the Duval Board to acknowledge the great things Vitti has done while superintendent here. “I want to be sure that we give those accolades and appreciation … if he decides to take this other job,” she said.
First she is outraged that he wasn't invited to cut his vacation short and return for a meeting, but then she wants to throw him a beeping parade.
I wonder what the parade would be for? Thinking teachers are widgets perhaps or maybe ending teachers careers? How about leaving before his contract was over? Maybe lying to the people of Jacksonville when he said over and over that this would be his last gig? The division he sown in the community, does she think that is parade worthy? Oh I know its the graduation rates, it's always the graduation rates.
Full disclosure, I think Vitti moving on would be best for him and the city and I wish him nothing but well, but come on Grymes, as usual you are being ridiculous. I notice you didn't have this persecution complex when you were in the majority of the board and would tell Hall, Couch and Wright, can't we all just get along when you would vote to blow up the schools they represented, and when the toughest question you would ask the super, with your eye lids fluttering, was, so how's your day going.
Grymes if you can't do your job right, then why don't you do the city a favor and go with him. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Scott Shine continues to show he just doesn't get it

It's no secret that School Board member Scott Shine and I have not seen eye to eye. I think he is a terrible school board member and he thinks I am a terrible blogger and teacher.

To be honest I won't disagree with his blogger assertion. If you have read my blog and cringed at bad grammar and inartful phrases, you aren't the only one. As for my teaching well he's never seen it so how he can judge that is beyond me, but I have seen his, um, err school boarding and it has been dreadful and he's been showcasing how dreadful it is this week.

When he heard the superintendent may be leaving, he expressed some remorse but also wished him well. A far cry from the apocalyptic sentiment he expressed last fall when the school board almost parted ways with him.

“It would be a tragic mistake to terminate Dr. Vitti in the middle of the comprehensive school reform work we are currently undertaking,” Shine said. “In addition, termination in the middle of the school year would send a shock wave through the school system and likely damage students’ academic achievement.”

He went from it being apocalyptic, to, that sucks, be sure to write.

Hyperbole be thy friend Scott, just like when he said in News4Jax: "The last time the district looked for a superintendent that was a 9 to 12 month process," Shine said.

Unlike Scott I was there through the process, and the reality is it took about six months. The board voted not to renew Ed Pratt-Dannal's contract and spent the summer and early fall looking for and hiring his replacement.

Shine also said:

Duval County School Board member Scott Shine said Monday that he doesn't want to lose Vitti and will do what he can to keep him in Jacksonville.
“I'm concerned. We've had a lot of progress in the school district. Academic achievement is up. Graduation rates are up. Teacher morale has increased, so he's made a positive difference,” Shine said.
The graduation rates are up canard is frustrating as grad rates are up everywhere, but when he said teacher morale is up, what went up was my blood pressure.
He is probably referring to the TNTP surveys which the super touted as showing morale being up but the problems with the survey are legion but of course Shine chooses to ignore them so he can defend his man-crush   and just go with what sounds good to him.
First ten percent of teachers didn't even bother to fill the surveys out. Then some teachers have told me they were forced to fill out the surveys during early release training and others said they filled them out in a positive fashion because they wanted to avoid hours of in service training.
I can relate too because last year the staff at my school seemed to be asked a half dozen times, why we didn't have a best friend at school.  
The thing is I know a lot of people like their schools and even their administrations, but that doesn't mean their morale is up and that doesn't mean they think downtown is doing a good job either.
A reader pointed out they don't ask questions about how the super or the administration is doing on those surveys and I believe the reason is they don't want to know what teachers really think and Scott Shine definitely doesn't want to know.
Why should Shine do his job and be out their talking and meeting with teachers, when he can point to some self serving survey and say, look things are peachy? The answer, since being on the board is little more than a check on a bucket list for him, as he unsuccessfully ran for the city council twice before he ran for school board edging out more qualified candidates, is there is no reason for him to do so.
We deserve better than the superintendent and we deserve better than Shine as well.
Being on the school board is serious business, it is time Shine started treating it that way.

When did, teachers become so unimportant in Jacksonville?

When did, teachers become so unimportant in Jacksonville?

I was once told that everybody has an opinion about education because everyone had one (of sorts) and most think they could be teachers.  

Recently somebody I like and generally agree with about education wrote on Facebook about the impending departure of superintendent Vitti:

We've had our ups and downs, but I think Dr. Vitti has been good for our schools and his move would be a loss for Jacksonville.

I responded:

Yeah, I am going to have to disagree with you on that one. He had the occasional good idea here and there, the parent academy, bringing back the arts though it was ham fisted and there is no doubt this admin could write a grant too, but to many teachers paid the price for his leadership style and overall I believe the district has suffered under his tenure.

They wrote back:  Morale is a problem. And I respect (and expect) that many teachers will share your view, Chris. Any Super is going to be between the devil and the deep blue sea, though, given funding pressures, privatization pressures, a punitive grading system and deeply held neighborhood concerns. I thought the school boundary/theme changes were fairly creative, and the various school communities rose to the occasion to make their voices heard. It was good to see the deep discussion, even if it was messy.

Right there they wrote, you know it doesn’t matter how many careers he ended, how many people he chased out of the profession, I liked that he did this. In a second teachers went from being people with families, and bills to pay, dreams and aspirations to nothing more than widgets.

They even acknowledged that most teachers shared the view that the superintendent had been terrible for our schools, but even that didn’t sway their view.

You see it doesn’t matter what teachers think or how they feel and if you don’t think that is a problem then you are part of the problem.

Take Nina Waters of the Community Foundation, she said in the Times Union, “We absolutely would prefer that Dr. Vitti remain in Duval County,” said Nina Waters, president of the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, which manages millions of dollars in donations and civic funds, including a $40 million educational effort called the Quality Education for All initiative, designed to help the district’s most disadvantaged schools in inner-city Jacksonville.
“He’s brought the leadership we needed to make the necessary progress now being documented in multiple performance measures,” Waters said. “There is clearly more work to be done, and we would be delighted to continue to partner with him and the School Board to build on this initial success.”
True story, years ago after I commented how the racial makeup of the Community Foundation would make a clan rally jealous, she called me into admonish me.

The thing is why do we care what she thinks, or Wayne Weaver, or Gary Chartrand or any of the other go to voices on education in the community, people who never taught a day in their lives?

Why do we listen to them while at the same time we ignore teachers? To them like my friend and like the superintendent admitted to thinking just a week ago, teachers are little more than widgets.

It might be painful to some to admit but education cannot be just about kids, it must be about teachers too.

How can people care about children but then not care about what happens to those who have been given the important responsibility of teaching them?

We overwork, marginalize, and don’t adequately compensate teachers. We ignore their concerns, belittle and blame them too. Then society wonders why we have problems in our schools and why we have a looming teacher shortage. This is not a recipe for disaster, this is the disaster we are currently living in.

You see at the end of the day, the better things are for teachers, then the better things will be for children, and we can learn that lesson, or we can continue to marginalize, disrespect and ignore teaches as education crumbles around us.

My friend said, I don’t care how many careers he ruined and how many people he chased out of the profession, I like that he did this thing over hear. I say that’s unacceptable. I say good leaders can have both good ideas and appreciate and support their staff and those are the type of leaders we don’t just need but can no longer afford not to have.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Contact the Times Union about Vitti leaving. Let them know how you feel

Have a take on the superintendent leaving? Let Denise Amos Smith of the TU know.

Superintendent Vitti get in touch with me ASAP!

Superintendent Vitti I read that you are a finalist for the superintendent position in Detroit and let me be one of the first to wish you good luck!

I imagine this announcement must have blindsided many of your supporters. Where teachers and parents may celebrate, those in the business community who went to bat for you will probably be disappointed and feel betrayed, I however think it is noble that finally you are doing what is best for the community.

Sir, I would like to know how I can help? I have written frequently about how you seem to just throw ideas against the wall to see what sticks. How much of your staff lives in a constant state of fear and intimidation and how you have often regarded teachers as little more than "widgets" and how you seem more interested in what the business community rather than what parents and teachers think among many other pieces and I want you to know I am prepared to take them all down at a moments notice. I wouldn't want anything on Education Matters to slow you down.

Finally do they have a need for a community foundation in Detroit? I have a feeling your pals at JPEF may be looking for new positions as well.

God Speed Sir, God Speed!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Superintendent Vitti goes on a charm offensive.

Now that's offensive.

Yesterday he touted improvements to the school culture survey, despite the fact ten percent of the district staff didn't even bother to fill it out, full disclosure I was one of them. 

Further more a long time reader pointed out, The surveys show improvement because they only ask about how teachers feel about admin leadership. We feel better about how our principals are running our buildings. The surveys do NOT ask about the culture created by district arrogance and incompetence that continues unabated under current leadership.

Today he is celebrating an award from the National Council on Teacher Quality

From News4Jax

"It is an honor and a point of pride that the NCTQ selected us as an honorable mention in its first Great Districts for Great Teachers initiative," said Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti. "Over the last four years, we have revamped our thinking, strategy and systems to become more intentional on recruiting and retaining great teachers. There is no investment more valuable than in our teachers and no better way to support our students' futures and success."

Deep breaths, NCTQ is hardly the organization one should go to, to recognize teaching, though as we look into their background its no wonder why Vitti loves them. 

They were founded sixteen years ago through a huge infusion of Bill Gates cash to push market based reforms. Many people who follow education reform believe they are one of the chief drivers behind the punitive, blame the teacher evaluations that have become all the rage and high stakes testing that has had dubious results and has sucked the love out of education for many teachers and students alike.

In effect the have been blaming teachers for years but I guess nobody is to anti-teacher  enough for Vitti to turn down an award from.

Before they made up some award they were best known for rating teacher preparation programs while simultaneously pushing Teach for America.

Diane Ravitch had an interesting take on their formation, from the Washington Post:

NCTQ was created by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 2000. I was on the board of TBF at the time. Conservatives, and I was one, did not like teacher training institutions. We thought they were too touchy-feely, too concerned about self-esteem and social justice and not concerned enough with basic skills and academics. In 1997, we had commissioned a Public Agenda study called “Different Drummers”; this study chided professors of education because they didn’t care much about discipline and safety and were more concerned with how children learn rather than what they learned. TBF established NCTQ as a new entity to promote alternative certification and to break the power of the hated ed schools.

John Thompson, had a similar take, from Ed Week,

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), is a Gates-funded organization dedicated to data-driven, market-oriented "reform." It sees itself as a part of a coalition for "a better orchestrated agenda" for accountability, choice, and using test scores to drive the evaluation of teachers. Its forte is publishing non-peer reviewed opinion pieces under the guise of "policy analysis."

I could go on and on and on. Seriously google them.

The bottom line is NCTQ where well funded is the type of organization that respectable districts stay away from, and the super can put as much lipstick on the pig as he wants, but at the end of the day its still a pig.

In my estimation this award isn't worth the paper it is written on and it shouldn't distract you which I think is the super's intent, from the problems we have.

Here is a link to NCQT, explore if you like.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Vitti admits he's not a good leader

From the Times Union

“If you’re looking to blame others … you’re not an effective leader,” he said.

Here are some examples of him blaming others:

Superintendent routinely blames teachers, which by his own words makes him an ineffective leader. Well friends I am willing to take him at face value on this one. 

Vitti admits he thought teachers were easily replaceable. Nothing more than a "widget"

For years I have been writing about Superintendent's open disdain towards teachers and he has shrugged it off, well friends in today's Times Union he admitted that he considered teachers little more than easily replaceable "widgets".

From the Times Union:

He said education leaders in general and he, personally, have at times “treated teachers as widgets,” assuming that departing teachers can be easily replaced by hiring more teachers. With the ongoing national teacher shortage, Vitti said, school leaders are concerned that they’re not attracting or retaining enough quality teachers.

Teachers aren't widgets, they are caring professionals who sacrifice so much and shame on the superintendent for thinking they were any less.

Now that there is a teacher shortage suddenly Vitti has changed his tune? He is like a metaphorical clan member who used to burn crosses on people's laws, that inherited a lawn care service, well I better start being nice to folks with lawns now.

I don't believe he has changed his tune at all just circumstances have changed. During the down turn anybody with a diploma on the wall was willing to try teaching, now however it takes a special sort to show up and fewer and fewer are doing so.

He doesn't get or take ownership that in Duval at least, he because of his open disdain towards teachers and what they do, is partly responsible for our shortage.

How many careers have ended prematurely because of his leadership? How many teachers left the district to go to other ones where they were appreciated? How many people retired early to get away from him? Hundreds if not thousands is my bet, but oh now he's changed his mind about teachers?

I don't believe it for a second and one of the way I can tell is by his use if the word widget. The district has sent truckloads of cash to an outfit called the New Teacher Project or TNTP. They are the super's go to for data collection and consultation. Well friends TNTP's guiding principal is called the "widget effect" which basically says you can fire teachers to success. So we are to believe that he is suddenly enlightened, now that the district is desperate for teachers, while he is still working with an organization that has no regard for the teaching profession? Well friends birds of a feather flock together.

I ask any school board members out there how can we have a leader that only cares about teachers when he has to? When he has no other choice and one that had driven hundreds maybe thousands of teachers away, why do you still allow him to lead?

We are never going to reach our potential as long as we marginalize and disrespect teachers, or as long as we have a leader that only appreciates them when he is forced to.

The Superintendent was a "teacher" for a cup of coffee before he started his march to education domination, and I imagine its because he has no idea what they do and endure that he has little regard for them. That hasn't changed, what has is now teachers have more options and he has fewer ones.

A leopard can't change its spots friends, and I can't imagine the super's real opinion about teachers has changed either.   

Monday, March 13, 2017

Talking student testing and education reform with PISA


By John Louis Meeks, Jr.

If you thought that the Americans were fiercely competitive in the Olympics, take a look at public education.

Instead of pride over the sons and daughters standing astride the podium amid the rising swells of the national anthem, we get an inferiority complex about how we teach our children.

Of course, instead of leading the medal count, American schools are in the middle of the pack – neither great nor poor.  This is taken for mediocrity and lack of effort on the part of a failing school system.
There is more than meets the eye here.

In March, the local Duval Teachers United teachers union hosted a presentation of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) at the Schultz Center.  PISA studies the academic performance of 15-year-old students in math, science, and reading.  This is done through a random sampling of student testing in nations that belong to the PISA partnership.  DTU hosted this gathering to look at the data from their latest survey based on student testing in 2015.

The morning began with remarks from the presidents of the American Federation of Teachers and the Florida Education Association – Randi Weingarten and Joanne McCall.

Weingarten said that it is useful to see what the top ranking countries are doing.  For example, she said, “They actually make teachers important.”

This meant, she said using their tests to inform instruction and not for punitive measures. 
Another factor behind high student performance, she said is equity. 

“Countries that deal with equity move up on the PISA scale,” said Weingarten, speaking of the proven results of universal Pre-K, mental health services, and other programs that can level the playing field for student achievement.

Weingarten also highlighted how the long term PISA numbers reflected education policy in two distinct nations that went opposite ways on the privatization issue.  The results, she said were as clear as Sweden and Poland.

On one hand, Sweden was “high flying” among other nations on their testing.  Then something changed.

“Sweden fell in love with market forces,” Weingarten said, along with privatization and for-profit schools expanding tenfold.  As a result, Sweden ranked lower than the United States in the following PISA reading surveys.

On the other hand, Weingarten said Poland had the lowest performing schools for a quarter of a century.  They made changes in 2000 that used testing to inform instruction instead of to punish schools.  Since those changes were made, Poland’s fortunes changed. 

Rob Weil, AFT director of field programs and educational issues briefed the assembled on the PISA data and additionally provided best (and worst) practices of schools around the world.

As data is only as reliable as its interpretation, I braced myself for the usual bad news but gained a better perspective of was beneath the surface of the PISA results.

For example, the United States ranks 24th in reading scores from the 2015 survey.  Its average reading score of 497 was only four points above the international average.

  While the knee jerk response would be to bemoan why American students cannot event crack the top ten, consider that federalism creates a patchwork of 50 different education systems that fall in different places on the curve.  It would be a mistake to treat American schools as a monolith of mediocre results.

Imagine if Massachusetts were a sovereign nation.  According to the PISA survey, they would actually tie with Canada for 3rd place on the 2015 survey.  The average reading score for both is 527, above the average score of 493.

Meanwhile, the Sunshine State has some ground to cover.  Weir referred to Florida’s 2012 PISA results as the 2015 did not have a sufficient sample to include.  If Florida were an independent country, it would rank 42nd with an average score of 467 in the PISA results. 

When a team’s performance is not up to par, the blame often falls on the coach – rightly or wrongly.  But is there more than meets the eye when pointing fingers?

Weil challenged the current mindset where teachers are the root of public education’s woes.

“There’s no research that shows that we have to fire teachers” to improve public education, Weil said.
And to the contrary, pitting schools against each other in competition for students under the guise of ‘choice’ is not the panacea either said, Weil.

“…cross-country correlations of PISA do not show a relationship between the degree of competition and student performance,” said an earlier PISA report from 2009.

To explain how choice and competition could have a detrimental effect on education, Weil presented Chile’s PISA scores.  The South American nation has used a voucher-based system for three decades.  Based on the ideas of Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago, Chile’s free-market approach to education resulted in Chile’s 2015 PISA reading results (459) falling 34 points below the international average and ranking it 42nd among the 72 surveyed nations.

Furthermore, according to PISA research, charter schools and competition in general are not a definitive solution to education woes.

“The bottom line appears to be that, once again it has been found that, in aggregate, charter schools are basically indistinguishable from traditional public schools in terms of their impact on academic test performance,” said the Review of National Charter School study in 2013.

“Education isn’t a competition,” said FEA president McCall, during a panel discussion including Weingarten, Duval County school superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti and local education leaders that was held after Weil’s PISA presentation.

To the contrary, investment in public education has increased in other nations.  In spite of the global financial crisis of 2008, nations outside of the United States increased their investment in education by five percent.  The United States cut spending by one percent in this same time frame.

“You have to invest in a public school system,” said Dr. Vitti, who compared improving test scores in the district to rising fortunes in the corporate world.

“You don’t de-invest in a company that’s on the rise,” he said, “It’s the same concept for public education.”

The panel discussion also spoke of the challenges that equity presents to public schools that must serve all students regardless of their background, home life, or prior knowledge.

“We have so many students who start behind the curve,” said McCall.

What Duval County’s public schools has accomplished, Dr. Vitti said, has been an improved ratio of school counselors to students and the district ranking first in Florida counties for the percentage of students taking art and music classes.  And the district is planning to provide mental health training to all of its teachers.

This aligned with McCall’s vision for all Florida public school students.

“We have to have wraparound service school,” she said, referring to before and after school care to create a ‘safe haven’ for students.”

And how can teachers better serve their students in light of the latest PISA survey results?  According to Weir’s presentation, the answer lies in allowing teachers to collaborate with each other, trusting teachers to do what is best for their students, and affording teachers the time to do more than teach but to best work directly with their students individually.

Take notice that the solution does not include punitive measures or adversarial attitudes toward educators and education support professionals. 

“We’re never the enemy,” said McCall, “We’re always on the side of what’s best for students.” 

Together, we can go for the gold.

Together, we can go for the gold.PHIA DELANE

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Superintendent Vitti says letting children be children is a hardship

As you may know there has been a debate about recess. the superintendent says teachers can take their kids out whenever they feel like they need it while teachers on the other hand report that those times because they are afraid of following behind on the learning schedule and the repercussions that brings, are close to never. Some parents at schools that don't do well on subsidized tests report they can count the number of time their children have gone out for recess on their fingers,

Well yesterday the superintendent once again let his feelings be known on kids being kids.

Via Facebook: from Elizabeth Ross who has been spearheading the effort to get children consistent recess.

I was at the Duval County School Board meeting tonight. During the Superintendent's Report, Dr. Vitti talked about some of the education issues before the Florida legislature this year. He mentioned the Recess Bill, and said it would be a hardship for the district if it had to provide daily recess to elementary students.
A hardship. What about the kids who have to sit all day long without a break? Who don't get to play and do developmentally appropriate things in school?
Attitudes like that are EXACTLY why a state mandate is needed.
The superintendent who spent barely a cup of coffee as a teacher doesn't understand that if we make school pure drudgery for kids they won't do well.

Come on superintendent let them play.

If you are interested in supporting the recess movement, click the link:

Some good news about recess,

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Teacher speaks out about counseling students out of school

From a reader,

There is definitely district pressure to counsel non-grad 4th year high school students to the alternative high schools so that they don't hurt our graduation rate. 

Students affected are usually students who didn't come to school and when they do, they can be behavior problems. Many have been beat down by the emphasis on testing and the direct effect on meeting graduation requirements. 

Being in a traditional high school setting doesn't work for them, and for some, the flexibility of the alternative settings has worked for them. FSCJ used to have a great program, Pathways, that not only graduated students but prepared for work after high school. Unfortunately, FSCJ cut the program to focus exclusively on post-secondary education. 

As long as school grades are based partly on 4 year gradation rate, the schools will continue to push the non-grads out to help their graduation rate. 

The main emphasis for the district is to save the Ivory Towers jobs by encouraging schools to counsel these non-grads out. Little regard is given as to whether or not this practice benefits the affected students.

Trump on school choice

No automatic alt text available.

Will superintendent Vitti survive another scandal that would get others fired?

Last fall a former police officer with the DCPS police force alleged that the district was having children baker acted rather than arrested.

From First Coast News

A former lieutenant in the Duval School Board Police Department says a controversial mental health law they say is being misused in the district.
When he worked for the Duval School Police, he directed officers to use a controversial Florida law called the Baker Act to deal with problem students.
"I have had an officer do that before," says former lieutenant Benny Reagor. "I have made that command decision. I have said Baker Act them and don't put them in jail."
He says when a problem student is placed under the Baker Act, statistically, it's not counted as an arrest at school.
The Baker Act allows a law enforcement officer to involuntarily commit someone to a mental health facility.
"In lieu of physically arresting them for the felony, we would Baker Act the child as opposed to an arrest," he says.
Reagor worked for the department's previous police chief and retired in 2015.
Well in today's Times Union's there were as equally damning allegations that public high schools would council out poor performers, sending them to charter schools in affect juking the books to raise graduation rates which has been his and his supporters go to line for him keeping his job.
From the Times Union
LaRoche called Vitti’s criticism of his school unfair and hypocritical. He said Duval’s high schools have been using schools like his to unload students they know won’t be able to graduate on time.
If students transfer to alternative high schools, then the district schools’ graduation rates get a boost, but it pushes the problem onto schools like his, he said.
“We have principals bringing these kids to us,” he said. “In essence, what we’re doing is helping these (district) schools’ graduation rates. We are an alternative drop-out recovery program, not a drop-out prevention program.”
Often these students come to him at least two years behind, he said; some at a fourth-grade or fifth-grade reading level. Many need to earn more than half their high school credits.
A couple things, I wrote about this issue years ago when the district decided to extend the contracts of some of these charter schools, 
And likewise I have heard about the allegations that principals counseled out poor performers for years but i could never get anybody to go on the record. 
Here is the things I doubt there is an email from Vitti to his subordinates saying get our arrest stats down and grad stats up by using these morally reprehensible means. No I think he puts such pressure and intimidation on people that they will do whatever they have to, to keep their jobs. Just ask any teachers how they feel? I bet intimidation comes up in thier first three sentences somewhere.
If either of these things, let alone both are happening, how does the super keep his job? And unless Becki Couch , Paula Wright and the rest of the school board sent the super a memo titled, "chuck ethics, just get it done", doesn't the buck stop at the superintendent? Who is going to pay the price for these policies even if they are unwritten? My bet is somebody way down the totem pole. 
We need to do things the right way, and here is yet more anecdotal evidence that we are not. 
Vitti believes he was brought in to turn us around, his methods though are less than desirable.