Suspended Belief

Suspension centers made the Times Union today, this is a piece I rote about a year ago about them. -cpg

“School suspensions drop dramatically” was the headline of the December 8th issue of the Florida Times Union. Good news right! Reading this the people of Jacksonville might think things are “dramatically better” here in Duval County sadly however that is far from accurate. All it is another case of smoke and mirrors propagated by the Duval County School Board. This time however they had accomplices as the Times Union and education writer Topher Sanders refused to bring up any issues of substance.

Such as how are suspensions down 71 percent but referrals down only 30? In the past were administrators just suspending students at the drop of a hat? How have teachers written over 19,000 referrals but less than fifteen percent have resulted in suspensions, are teachers writing students up for the most trivial of offences? The article said thirteen hundred children have been referred to the suspension centers, but it doesn’t say how many have actually attended? Even if they all attended which is extremely doubtful wouldn’t that mean the suspension centers are operating at less than five percent of their capacity? Did we waste two million dollars in their creation? If these students aren’t technically suspended and they aren’t in schools what are they? Why hasn’t the school board just said, refer all suspended children to the suspension centers. This by their computing process would eliminate all suspensions. A 71% drop is great but a 100% drop is even better.

Would you like to know some reasons why referrals are down here in Duval County? Well make sure your tables are in their upright position and you have strapped yourself in, because you are about to go on a wild ride.

The biggest reason there are fewer suspensions is because some teachers have stopped writing children up. Quite frankly nothing happens too many of them when they do so. Students rarely receive appropriate consequences for their behavior and even freshmen psychology students will tell you that often leads to worse behavior. Furthermore teachers are afraid to write up children. If they write to many referrals then their classroom management skills are questioned and that can affect their evaluations. So instead many teachers just endure little Johnny or little Suzie’s disruptive, disrespectful and defiant behavior. Sadly however they aren’t the only ones that have to do so; it’s the other children in the class who have come to learn who have to endure it too.

Suspensions are also happening less because suspending kids affect a schools grade. The school board would rather keep misbehaving children in school without real consequences for their behavior, again despite the fact this practically ensures the behavior will repeat and worsen. And it doesn’t matter to them that this also robs parents of the opportunity to be parental and steals instruction time from children to whom school is important. Meeting their self imposed benchmark and looking better in the eyes of the state, not teachers and students are apparently their chief concern.

Referrals are being ignored. Boxes of unprocessed referrals were recently found at my school and where I can’t say with a certainty this happens elsewhere I wouldn’t be surprised, but I do know that more than half the referrals I write I never get back.

Finally suspensions are happening less because the school board told principals to suspend less and they told their deans to suspend less, regardless of the consequences.

Who wins when these things happen? It’s not the teacher that can’t teach, the children that can’t learn or the children who don’t receive consequences for their actions? It’s the school board who can point to deceptive statistics pat themselves on the back and say; look we’re doing a good job.

Continuing, the principal quoted in the piece said, “If a teacher is talking to a child rather than stopping instruction to write them up, then you get better results and you’re building relationships.”

The thing is which she must have forgotten is that teachers are already talking to the unruly students and probably a lot more than to the students who care about school. Please have a seat, please stop talking when I am talking, please pay attention, please stop bothering your neighbor, please stop screaming at me, and please stop cursing at me usually follows, if you want to talk I am here for you and what can I do to help.

Furthermore all the teachers I know only write up kids when they are forced to, when a student’s behavior is so badly or their defiance is so great that teachers have no other choice. Also while the teacher is spending so much time on the unruly student, who do you think is being neglected? I’ll tell you it’s the students who want to be there that are.

If keeping little Johnny in my class means, Linda, Michael, Bob and Allen can’t learn, then little Johnny has to go.

I had a parent teacher conference a few weeks back where the parent was very angry with me accusing me of singling out her child. He had been written up nine times, seven by me, one by a sub and one by another teacher. This child, a second year freshmen also had six F’s and one D on his report card the first nine weeks and at the conference I brought e-mails about this student from all his other teachers, saying he didn’t do any work and didn’t behave in their classes either. I reasoned to the mother, who cares most about this student, the person who just accepts their behavior or the person who says enough is enough, you need to improve. At the mother’s insistence he is now in another class and his grades and behavior are as bad as ever.

Offering no consequences for behavior doesn’t seem to be working. If you want proof sit in on a tenth grade geometry class or ninth grade reading class at your average turn around school. Or look in the streets and jails of our city. How about we try the opposite and give some consequences including suspensions for bad behavior, it seemed to work for our parents and our grandparents.

When the Times Union prints these misleading puff pieces on behalf of the school board it does their readers, the citizens of Jacksonville and most importantly the children of Jacksonville a disservice. The Times Union should write an article about how the school board and the school system here in Jacksonville is in trouble, deep trouble and we need the help of the whole community to turn it around because if we don’t things are going to get worse much worse. That story would at least be accurate.

Call the parents first

There is a new discipline directive given to Duval county’s teachers for its unruly students and that’s before you write a referral or send them out of glass you must call the parents first. Instead of writing these children up, something most of us do as a last resort anyways, we are supposed to stop in the middle of class and call the parents before we do anything else. My grade book and attendance folder have been replaced on my desk with a list of contact numbers, and emergency numbers. I have to tell my class, hold on, I’ll be back in as soon as I can, that is, after I track down the parent, explain the situation and ask for help, please be patient we’ll start learning as soon as I get back, and you little Johnny just continue cursing me out, running around the room, refusing to do your work or doing whatever you were doing.

That’s right, the student walks out of class we are supposed to call the parent first, the student curses you out, we are supposed to call the parent first, the student threatens to gut you with a lawn mower blade (something that happened to a colleague of mine just the other day) call the parent first. And do it right then and there, the other twenty-five students will just have to make do.

If we do write a referral the first thing we hear from an administrator is, and you probably guessed it, did you call the parent first before you wrote them up, though that’s better than do you really think he was going to gut you with a lawn mower blade, to which I imagine my teacher friend replied, “…well now that I think about it, when he was screaming at me, spit flying out of his mouth, with his fists clenched, he may have been kidding a little, I guess.” We never hear, how much is it going to cost to replace the overhead projector, sorry your family lineage was called into question, or if he does show up with a lawn mower blade what we should do, perhaps we should call the parent first then to.

A P.E. teacher at Paxon Middle school followed this directive the other day. He had a student who was reportedly out of control in his class, at some point he had enough and rather than write the student up on a referral, he call the parent. He asked the parent to come to the school to discipline the child, while doing this he reportedly asked the parent to bring his belt.

When the parent arrived the student was taken to a separate room, and was disciplined presumably with the belt his father was asked to bring, afterwards the student then apologized to the coach, and to many of us, who daily are cursed out and are threatened, who have children run amok in our classrooms, that when we write them up, are back either later in the day or the next day to repeat, for many of us even though we didn’t know all the facts, we thought this was a victory.

Others though must have thought differently because later that day the teacher was reassigned to a non-instructional position, the child was taken by the Department of Children and Families and the father was arrested.

Now I wasn’t there, I only know what was reported in the paper, an article every teacher in my department read with jaws dropped, not believing what had happened, at first stunned, as a colleague was in danger of loosing his job, and a parent who took the time to come out, when so many don’t, was arrested, we wondered if what happened was excessive or not, we also wondered if the child was injured, but if not then we agreed what was happening to the teacher and the parent was a shame.

I understand why we want to have the parents involved, they can be a huge help and should be involved, but I also understand that a big reason we have a discipline problem in school, is because many parents have abdicated their parental responsibilities, they haven’t taught their children what respect and responsibility are. They think I’ll send them to school, there they will be straightened out, to which we now reply, call the parents they will take care of the problem, and in this catch twenty-two never ending circle, the children receive no meaningful consequences for their actions. This will ultimately lead to worse and worse behavior, perhaps behavior that will have tragic consequences. You see by doing nothing we without a doubt are courting tragedy either for them or for somebody else.

Sometimes when we call the parents, we do so with a wink and a nod, we know we can’t put our hands on the child, but we also no if reason or time out doesn’t work in our class room, we know it probably won’t work at home either, and we hope the parent may have a harsher discipline they can employ. That means unless it was excessive, what the parent at Paxon middle did wasn’t the problem, the problem was where he did it at.

In my seven years of teaching, when I have called the parents, usually after school or on my planning period, not when I was in the middle of teaching other students, for the most part they have been helpful and concerned, working with me to fix the problem, but problems with those kids that have involved, supportive parents are usually just a blip and easily correctable. But I have also heard at different times, can you beat the child, they are the same way here, I can’t control them either, call the police when you have a problem because I am done, if you fail my child I will fuck you up, and more than a few fuck offs.

Discipline or the lack there of, is the number one problem that many of the teachers in the trenches, not classrooms but trenches of our public schools face. I wrote trenches there because that’s how a lot of teachers feel day in and day out, like they are going to battle.

The unruly five percent of kids are ruining classrooms and schools throughout the district; they are taking away from the ninety-five percent of students who want to learn who want to do well. I hope parents understand that, most of teacher’s time and energy go to those students who are most frequently in trouble, not the child who might be a little behind but wants to learn, those children who if they don’t get he extra help will fall farther and farther behind, and these same unruly children are chasing teachers out of the field.

It comes down to this if they don’t get any discipline at home, we are doing them no favors by not giving it to them at school either, for a consequence to have meaning it must mean something, if they get no consequences at home then calling home will mean nothing.

Hello Mrs. Doe, where I find Johnny very bright and engaging at times, when he runs around the room cursing, refusing to do his work, threatening me, it distracts from the learning environment of the other twenty kids who want to be there, and prevents him from achieving his full potential, oh it’s my problem and I should deal with it, oh I should f**k off, well thank you for taking the time to talk to me.

While at work.

While at work today I saw three young ladies beat up another. During the fight they pulled hair from her head and bloodied her face and foot. I am not a prison guard.

While at work today I got hit in the head while breaking up a fight. I am not a referee.

While at work today I saw two young men rummage through a purse that had been dropped and they did so in the full view of several staff members. I am not a store clerk.

While at work today I read an e-mail about a gun that was recently confiscated there. I don’t work at a call center or at one of the big banking or insurance complexes.

While at work today I wondered if we got all the guns that were here but then I thought, I bet we aren’t even close. I don’t work for the police.

While at work today I was cursed out not once but twice, I was told to mind my own expletive business when I asked someone to get to work and called a mother expletive when I asked someone what they were doing. I don’t work at a gym.

While at work today I had somebody burst into my room to yell at somebody who was in there with me. I am not a doctor or a lawyer.

While at work I got frustrated because I didn’t have up to date materials and supplies. I am not a painter.

While at work today I got disgusted with the lack of civility, respect, and dignity. I don’t work at city hall.

While at work today I was surrounded by apathy and noticed an extreme lack of effort, I don’t work for the department of motor vehicles.

While at work today, there were moments when I didn’t fee respected and I didn’t feel safe. I am not a soldier.

While at work today I wondered how many lawyers, bankers, sales clerks,
computer technicians, construction workers, politicians and paramedics, how many white collar and blue collar workers alike can say they had the same type of day as me. I would guess not many.

So what do I do, and where do I work? I am a school teacher at a public high school and today was a pretty typical day, but not just for me but for thousands of my colleagues as well. The really sad thing is a lot of students, who want to learn, who want to succeed, who deserve better had a much worse day than I did.

Have you ever wondered why we have an epidemic of violence in our street unlike never before? Have you ever wondered why we have a hard time first attracting and keeping more first rate businesses and companies? Have you ever wondered where civility, courtesy and respect went? Have you ever wondered why so many of our schools are failing and why graduation rates are are so abysmal?

I’ll tell you why, it’s because we don’t care about our schools, and we don’t care about education and worse of all we don’t care about our children.

Now we say we do care, and we shake our heads and sigh when we hear the news reports of violence, failing schools and the loss of opportunity our city experiences, but then we turn away, I imagine hopeful our elected officials will take care of it. But all they really do is form committees and initiatives. But these things are designed to distract us, to give us the illusion that somebody in charge will eventually do something that the care, but they don’t and I can prove it.

Ask yourself a question, do you think things are getting better or worse. If you answered yes welcome to the group that is called everybody thinks that.

In the end it’s the citizens of Jacksonville that need to stand up and say we care; we want things to be better and that enough is enough, if things are going to change it will only happen if we demand it, because if not us then who.

Like other municipalities that are tired of seeing their children hang out on the street corners with little hope and even less opportunity, that have seen their crime rates rise and their graduation and achievement rates drop, we have to step up, even in these tough economic times, we have to tell our government we want to have a first rate education system, and then we have to do what it takes even if it means digging into our pockets to make sure it happens.

Jacksonville doesn’t have to agree with Tallahassee and their decision not to care about education, just because it’s okay with them that Florida is fiftieth out of fifty in spending on children it doesn’t mean it has to be okay with Jacksonville.

Our school system desperately needs programs that give students extra tutoring in reading and writing, and programs that teach skills to the students not interested in college, such as vocational or trade programs. Likewise teachers need to have manageable classrooms and adequate supplies to be able to properly educate our children. Again just because the state of Florida puts educating our children below tax breaks for people who one multiple houses and luxury boxes it doesn’t mean the citizens of Jacksonville have too.

Times are tough and everybody understands that, but if we continue to underfund education, the needs of our children, do we think things are just going to miraculously fix themselves? When something in your house breaks does it miraculously fix itself, or do you have to spend the money to get it working again. Well if we as a city don’t start sacrificing then it’s many of our children’s future that will be lost, and it’s our city that will continue to suffer.

We have to decide whether we care about the future of our city or we don’t and we do that by deciding if we care about our children or we don’t, and the first step is to follow the lead that several other cities have done and that’s step up and stop just saying we care and start acting like we do.

Version II

I’ll tell you why, it’s because we don’t care about our schools, and we don’t care about education and worse of all we don’t care about our children. Children without boundaries grow up with a false sense of how things are. Children who don’t receive consequences for their actions do not learn from their actions. Friends we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to take back our schools and our streets; if we want things to improve, we need to bring discipline back to the classroom.

Teachers want all students to do well if not we would have picked different professions; professions where we are not routinely disrespected unappreciated and threatened, however the sad thing is not all students care about learning. They don’t come to school to do so; they come to school to hang out with their friends or to see what trouble they can find. So many students have no idea what being respectful and courteous means, or even what making an effort means. Instead they feel entitled and as if they can do whatever they want whenever they want.

It’s no coincidence the city has had an increase in burglaries and violence perpetrated by young people. You rarely hear about honor students being arrested for carjacking or valedictorians arrested for robbery. It’s always, they had a few problems in school, which is often code for they were always in trouble and/or we can’t believe it took so long for them to get caught. There is a direct correlation between students who constantly misbehave in school and students who commit crimes in society. Who knows what would have happened had they children been disciplined or received meaningful consequences for their actions. Let me ask you this, Why don’t you commit crimes, or curse out your boss, why don’t you steal or vandalize things, is it because you know it’s wrong and part of that knowledge came from whenever you misbehaved you received consequences for your actions?

While we are trying to save a few of the bad apples the whole cart is in danger of being spoiled. Students that fight should be removed if not arrested; students that don’t come to learn, just to hang with their friends or to see what trouble they can find should be expelled. Teachers lament all the time if little Suzy or Johnny wasn’t in their classroom they could teach or they rejoice when they are absent. Think about this if a teachers spends just ten percent of their time disciplining the continuously unruly few that’s 18 days of instruction that is lost, and how much better do you think some students would do with that extra time and believe you me, a lot of teachers are forced to spend a lot more time than ten percent.

If some families are abdicating the responsibility to show their children how to be responsible respectful citizens, then we have to do it in the classrooms and the schools because if not there then where else can they possibly learn it?

Are violent streets, low graduation rates and failing schools not enough? Do we need a tragedy does somebody at a school have to be killed before we wake up and do something? No child left behind should be we are leaving about ten percent of them behind until they shape up; we have the other ninety percent to think and care about.

Suspension Centers

Duval county’s suspension centers made the Times Union today. This is a piece I wrote about them almost 18 months ago. -cpg

The editorial praising suspension centers for misbehaving school children elicited a response from me; it was me slapping my forehead exclaiming, “Are you kidding me!” In addition to sending them there why don’t we pat them on the back and give them a big bag of gumdrops too?

Being suspended is supposed to be a punishment, have we forgotten that,
has our touchy feely, politically correct society gotten to that point? If done correctly suspensions can have several positive outcomes. If disruptive children are sent home for a few days it gives the other students an opportunity to have a positive learning environment and teachers an opportunity to teach. The teachers lament is, if little Johnny or little Suzy wasn’t here I could teach, most students that get suspended are little Johnnies and little Suzies. Bottom line, the suspension of an unruly child often gives other students a chance to learn and teachers a chance to teach.

More importantly however is a child’s suspension gives a parent an opportunity to act like one. I knew if I was ever suspended from school there were far worse punishments than that waiting for me at home. Too many parents have abdicated their responsibilities or left it to the schools to discipline their children, well society isn’t supposed to work like that, parents are supposed to teach children how to behave and schools are just supposed to teach.

If instead of sending them home all we are going to do is send them to a suspension center which sounds like a glorified coddling center to me what’s the point in suspending them in the first place? Where is the punishment? If schools are to become the discipline tool of the family let’s not play around and let’s do it right. If we don’t it’s only all of society hangs in the balance and if you think I am exaggerating or using grandiose terms for effect, just read the crime report or law and disorder sections of any paper.

Discipline has become a huge problem in many of our schools as evident by another teachers lament and that’s the inmates are running the asylum. When we don’t give children consequences for their actions, and remember for a consequence to be effective it must have meaning, we are in danger of creating more problems down the line. Violent, disruptive and disrespectful children often become violent, disruptive and disrespectful adults. When a student gets to the point they need to be suspended it rarely is the first problem the school had had with the child. Furthermore many students who are suspended are often the recipients of multiple suspensions, this is because suspensions aren’t consequences to them and now inexplicably we are watering down suspensions further with suspension centers.

I personally don’t expect the suspended student to learn anything from not being in school, all I expect is now I will have a few days of peace where I can make sure my other students do.

Instead of going to a voluntary suspension center for a few days something that will unlikely make a difference, why not send the repeat offending child to an alternative school for nine weeks. A school where there is no P.E. or art, no talking in the halls or in the cafeteria, for every day you miss a day is added on and for every bad day you get an extra week. We can have character education and social workers there and then they can get those services for more than an easily forgettable few days. Then let’s make the parents responsible for getting them there and hold them accountable when they don’t. Why not do something that will matter, that has teeth, that will make a difference, because if we’re not going to do that then what is the point, and friends what we are currently doing isn’t worth of a hill of beans to far too many.

If students know going to an alternative center is a real possibility how do you think this will affect their decision making process? Furthermore as I stated above, students who are suspended are often those students who are repeatedly in trouble, after nine weeks away from their friends in a very restrictive environment how much repeat behavior do you think they will have? I’ll tell you how much affect a three day suspension has on many of them, it’s none.

To be honest though I don’t think it should stop there. Once you turn fifteen if you get in two fights in a year thanks for coming but instead of taking the risk you might assault someone else you can go home and be your parent’s problems for a year. Threaten or hit a teacher welcome to the alternative school for the rest of your academic career. Get caught at school with drugs (I recently had an 18 year old student return after just three weeks) feel free to reapply next year.

I don’t particularly like the idea of having these students on the street, but to be honest keeping them in the schools scares the heck out of me and has a detrimental effect on the other students. If a kid comes to hang out with his friends or to see what trouble they can find, it’s time to tell them they are no longer wanted because keeping them takes resources away from the kids that want to be there that have an opportunity to do well. In other words a few bad apples are threatening to spoil all the apples in the cart.

Ask your son or daughter if they know any students who are always in trouble or who never do their work, I bet many of them will know a handful. If a teacher has to constantly deal with disruptive children then that’s time taken away from your child. I hope your child just doesn’t need that little bit extra to be successful.

We have to wake up, by coddling these children, by not giving them real consequences for their actions, by sending them to suspension centers, which are voluntary by the way, we are courting more tragedies. I say more because we already have tragedies in our streets daily. Young people are committing and being the victim of crimes at a terrifying rate and it’s just a matter of time before this violence invades our schools more than it already has. Do we need a student or a teacher to be gunned down in the halls before we stand up and demand something meaningful be done.
In the last few weeks at my school there have been several vicious assaults that probably wouldn’t have taken place if the perpetrators would have received real consequences for past behavior. I say again we are courting tragedy, I just hope it’s not me or one of my peers, or your son or daughter that it happens to.

Suspension centers are those ideas that sound good in a vacuum, that are created by far off academics or people brainstorming around coffee and doughnuts, not by the teachers and administrators in the schools on the front lines, and I mean front lines because with some of these students it’s like going to battle daily. Suspension centers are like putting Band-Aids on bullet wounds which we will have in our halls and our classrooms if we don’t start doing something.

Even in failure the St. Johns County school district gets it right

Even in failure the St. Johns County public school system got it right.

The Florida Times Union recently ran a story about St. Johns County’s lone failing school, St. Johns technical high school. This is a big deal for several different reasons. First because St. Johns County is the highest achieving district in the state and any news of failure is big news and second because even in failure the St. Johns County school district has gotten it right.

The vast majority of the kids that go to St. Johns vocational high school are unlike the kids in the rest of the county, they aren’t going to go to college and quite frankly they have struggled throughout their academic carrers. “Most since the first day of kindergarten” the piece mentions, and perhaps the main reason for this is because many of the kids have disabilities. At this school however instead of just struggling as they would at a typical high school, they can also earn a certificate in a variety fields such as cosmetology, landscaping or culinary arts. They learn a skill that prepares them or life that far more than learning the quadratic formula and how to conjugate verbs does. This is how St. Johns County got it right.

Capable disabled students in Duval County have no such option and very little in the way of opportunity. Despite their disabilities we are in the process of shoving them into the same one size fits all, everybody is going to go to college curriculum that the district has deemed is appropriate for everybody. What’s the difference in curriculum between a highly motivated student at Stanton with an IQ of 120 who wants to be an engineer and a learning disabled student at Ed White who has an IQ of 80 and who wants to drive a truck? The answer is, there is none.

Also since we are doing away with special diploma options, I believe partly because kids that earn them will begin to count against a schools grade, we are forcing kids who after ten years of school and who can’t do their times tables into algebra classes where they will either fail or receive the “gentlemen’s C” that dominates so many teachers grade books. Also, you ever wonder why kids act out in class? Well one of the biggest reasons is the material is too much for them and it leads to frustration which leads to bad behavior. Many of our disabled children act out the most. See a correlation?

I get that the powers that be think that some of these students haven’t been given the proper opportunities to test their academic mettle and that they hope when put in these advanced for them academic settings they will be able to be successful. What they don’t get however is that if wishes were real we would all be riding rocket powered unicorns. Instead of blowing the system up, why don’t we here in Duval County do something realistic and put the kids in situations they can not only potentially be successful in but will also give them a tangible benefit like earning a certificate. Why don’t we do something like St. John’s County does? Though I guess there is a reason why they are considered one of the best school districts in Florida and Duval County is considered something different.

I am a special education teacher and it does my heart good to see one of my kids succeed in the regular education setting but likewise it breaks my heart to see kids thrust into those situations who have no real chance at being successful and it frustrates me to know end that we are teaching these kids things they most likely will never get and if by some miracle they did would never use. We should not just be okay with these kids learning a technical skill but we should encourage it and celebrate it when they earn them. However once again we have designed our schools around the kids we wish we had preparing them for the jobs we want them to do and in the process almost assured that the kids we do have won’t be successful post school.

Many of Duval Counties disabled kids will graduate ill prpared to continue their education and unlike their counterparts in St. Johns county without a skill. Well what do you think is going to happen to them? The best and brightest will get menial dead end jobs and the others will continue on the dole of society either recieving public assistance or for some who when faced with few options make bad choices a period of enforced residency at the behest of the state.

Perhaps what’s most frustrating in all this is it wasn’t that long ago that Duval County got it right. We had award winning skill centers that kids would go to half a day where they could learn the trades and skills that they and their parents thought would better suit them and the other half of the day they would be at their home schools where they would learn their academics. The skill centers have now sadly gone away replaced with academic magnets that many of our regular and most of our special education students cannot be successful in. Every year kids trickle away from Frank Peterson because they couldn’t cut the mustard, heading back to their neighborhood schools where they often continue to languish.

We desperately need an option or our disabled kids and our kids that either don’t have the aptitude or interest in going to college. Our one size it’s all curriculum, where we have devalued the teaching of the trades, skills and arts has led directly many of the districts problems. Furthermore I know we want every kid to go to college and that’s a laudable goal, sadly it’s also an unrealistic goal. Instead of having a school system for the kids we wish we had, I think it would do us, them and the district well to have a school system appropriate for the ones we do. Even though they knew it would be hard and extra work in St. Johns County, even though they realized they might not be successful when it was factored into the states cookie cutter system that rarely takes the concerns of the children into consideration, they did it anyways. They made a place for all their students, why can’t we.

In the end, even in “failure” because they made their special needs children a priority St. Johns County got it right.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Eric Smith: Teachers will get say in new bill to evaluate their performance

By Eric Smith

Special to • November 18, 2010

I want to commend The News Press on its editorial “Teachers deserve a say on performance pay bill” (Nov. 7) for highlighting the need for ongoing conversation regarding teacher quality here in the Sunshine State.

During the last several months, officials at both the state and local level have sought feedback from teachers and other stakeholders about the need for continued improvement in our state’s education system, particularly in the areas of teacher support and evaluation, professional development and interpreting student data.

A prime example of this dialogue is the Florida State Board of Education’s recent “What’s Working in Effective Teaching and Leadership” series which featured five workshops across the state to hear directly from educators and education stakeholders.

While each workshop covered a different topic, they focused in large part on statewide efforts to build improved teacher and principal evaluation systems to better inform educators and education leaders about their strengths and weaknesses.

Discussion specifically included the pros and cons of tying student performance data based partially on statewide assessments to educator effectiveness.

The meetings were very successful with a wide variety of opinions and commentary offered, and footage from the workshops is still available for viewing through the Department of Education’s website.

There has also been a tremendous amount of discussion taking place within our school districts as they work feverishly to develop their Race to the Top work plans.

As part of Florida’s winning application, participating districts must construct new teacher and principal evaluation systems that are partially based on growth in the performance of their students.

A key part of this process is local flexibility within the grant allowing districts to build a system that’s right for them.

This local decision-making process will undoubtedly require significant
discussion with local teachers to ensure all parties are on board with the plan.

Additionally, I created the Commissioner’s Teacher Task Force last January to gather input from dedicated educators about key education issues.
This Task Force is comprised solely of Florida teachers with a longstanding history of student success in a variety of environments, and
I’m going to be leaning on them heavily for their advice and ideas in many different areas, including new teacher evaluation systems.

There is no doubt that our teachers, as well as many other stakeholders, need to have an active voice in the revolutionary education reforms that are underway in Florida.

Their input is going to be essential if we expect these changes to take root and produce lasting success in our schools.

Based on the conversations that have already happened, I can say with confidence that we are on the right path to implementing a collaborative reform agenda that upholds my No. 1 goal: better opportunities and outcomes for our children.–Teachers-will-get-say-in-new-bill-to-evaluate-their-performance

Seattle Public Schools should avoid ‘Teach for Awhile’ program

Teach for America is not the universally loved program that some make it out to be. -cpg

The Seattle School Board is considering whether to bring the Teach for America program to Seattle. Guest columnist Jesse Hagopian, a former TFA teacher, cautions the board to invest in experienced teachers rather than recruits from a program that has become known as “Teach for Awhile.”

By Jesse Hagopian

FROM 2001 to 2003, I “taught for America.”
After graduating from college, I headed for the Bronx, N.Y., where I underwent Teach for America’s (TFA) “teacher boot camp.” With just five sleepless weeks of on-the-job training teaching summer school to fourth-graders, team meetings and night classes, I was given the stamp of approval and shipped off to Washington, D.C.

The Seattle School Board is expected to vote Wednesday whether to bring TFA to our school district, and before they decide, they should consider the lessons of my experience.

At 21, I found myself in a public elementary school in the ghetto of South East Washington, D.C. — in a classroom with a hole in the ceiling that caused my room to flood, destroying the first American history project I ever assigned the students.

One lasting memory came on my third day of teaching sixth grade.
I had asked the students to bring a meaningful object from home for a show-and-tell activity. We gathered in a circle and the kids sat eagerly waiting to share their mementos. One after another, each and every hand came out of those crumpled brown lunch sacks, clutching a photo of a close family member — usually a dad or an uncle — who was either dead or in jail.

By the time it was my turn, all I could do was stare stupidly at the baseball I pulled out and pick nervously at the red stitches.
Working in the “other America” was a personally powerful experience and made me decide to dedicate my life to finding a solution to transform public education and the broader society that would allow such neglect to occur.

But while TFA allowed me this window into the problems of our country, it didn’t prepare me to address these challenges. With only five weeks of training, it wasn’t just that I was not equipped to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of students with a wide range of ability levels, create portfolios that accurately assessed student progress, or cultivate qualities of civic courage — it was that I didn’t even know that these things were indispensable components of an effective education.

As well, TFA often overemphasizes the importance of test scores, driving corps members to narrow the curriculum to what’s on the test to prove that they are effective teachers. Yet even by this measure, TFA-ers don’t make the grade.

Consider a six-year study of TFA out of Stanford University that looked at more than 4,000 teachers and 132,000 students on six different tests and found not one case where TFA educators performed as well as certified teachers.

Moreover, TFA’s own statistics show that a mere 33 percent continue teaching after their two-year commitment — creating high turnover in the very schools that most need the continuity and stability.

Seattle has an abundance of teachers with teaching certificates and master’s degrees struggling to get a teaching position in the local public schools — West Seattle Elementary School, a target school for TFA, had some 800 applicants for a single job. Why bring in undertrained TFA recruits when we have so many young teachers in Seattle who have spent years developing their skills?

TFA is being presented as a solution to the problems in our public schools. But the reality is, in this era of cash-strapped school districts, officials are lured not by the quality of TFA-ers but by the fact that young teachers who leave the district and make room for more young teachers provide an inexpensive alternative to investing in more experienced teachers who will earn a higher salary.

Yet, if the Seattle school district truly wants “excellence for all,” it will need highly trained teachers who have a lasting commitment to the profession — not the revolving door that has come to be known as “Teach for Awhile.”

Jesse Hagopian teaches history at Garfield High School and is a founding member of the Social Equality Educators (SEE).

Taken from the Seattle Times :

Sec. Duncan: Districts Need to Rethink Class Size, Salary Structure

Is he saying do more with less, or are kids just aren’t that important? –cpg

By Alyson Klein

The dismal economic climate may well be represent “new normal” for schools, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said today at a forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank.
That means schools are going to have to make hard choices, Duncan said. And he’s hoping they’ll use the opportunity fundamentally rethink long-held ideas, such as the need for students to have a certain amount of “seat time” in each particular class, class size, and teacher pay scales that reward educators for getting advanced degrees.

Duncan is hoping that school administrators won’t cut areas that directly impact the classroom, such as trimming instructional time, and scrapping art and music classes. And he doesn’t want districts laying off “talented young teachers.”

“Unfortunately this pattern of cutbacks has too often prevailed in the past,” he said.

Instead, districts might want to look at rethinking transportation routes, and closing down schools that are under-enrolled, Duncan suggested.
And he urged districts to consider “modest but smartly targeted increases in class size.” As a parent, Duncan said, he’d much rather have his kids in a class of 26 with a really excellent teacher, than in a class with 22 kids, lead by a mediocre teacher. And he said that in Asian countries that tend to do well on international benchmarks (like South Korea and Japan) average classes in secondary schools are 30 or more, as opposed to the U.S. average of about 25.

During a question and answer period, one teacher questioned that rationale, saying that if she took on additional students, that’s asking her to do more for the same amount of money. Duncan said he’d like districts to consider reworking contracts so that effective teachers (particularly those who choose to work with more kids) can make a lot more money, say $80,000, or even $125,000.

I think there are lots of folks out there who would probably agree that is a good conversation to have. But I’m wondering if the economic downturn will make those types of discussions easier (as in, we have to cut costs anyway, so let’s rethink salary structure) or much harder (since districts may not have the spare cash for huge salary increases to compensate good teachers for taking on more kids.) What do you think?

And what’s your take on Duncan’s class size comments? My colleague Sarah Sparks of Inside School Research fame is looking into this and would appreciate your thoughts. Comments section is open!

Taken from Education Week:

I hope you get me, if you read one, I hope it is this one

Often when I read a piece about teaching from the Times Union editorial staff I roll my eyes and sigh. I wonder to myself how they would feel if came in and told them how to edit a piece or that the way they wrote their editorials was all-wrong. I wonder what they would think if I said, the number one goal of the Times Union should be to improve its editorial staff. Now sometimes they get it right but they showed today was not one of those days when they wrote, The American people get it. Improving the quality of teaching should be the No. 1 goal of American education. The truth is the American people do not get it and neither does the editor who wrote the piece.

I do get it though. The public education system in the United States is failing and teachers are the ones on the front line. The last decade has seen education produce a generation of kids ill prepared for either college or the work force and seen the United State’s standing in the world drop dramatically. Citizens, and rightfully so, are tired of crime in their streets and a lack of civility in our neighborhoods and in our stores, something that education needs to take at least some responsibility for. Likewise they look at the KIPP and other charter schools and see amazing things happening and wonder why that can’t be replicated at PS this or PS that. Then they hear about things like vouchers and merit pay and I admit in a vacuum they sound like good ideas and wonder why teachers as a whole are resistant. Furthermore there has been a well coordinated and I believe very misinformed campaign to improve teacher quality, waged by prominent Americans like Bill Gates, Mike Bloomberg and even President Obama among others. I get it, Americans are tired of kids failing and dropping out, they are tired of kids that can’t read or do much more than play video games and the person standing in front of them with a “who me” look on their face isn’t Alfred E. Newman it’s a teacher. I understand their frustration, I feel their angst and I too worry about the future.

What the public doesn’t get and what the author of today’s editorial doesn’t get, is where teacher quality should always be an issue and we should always strive to put our best and brightest in the classroom, is the fact they have been hood winked, as we already have many of our best and brightest and perhaps just as important willing already in our schools. Sure there are bad teachers and we should do our best to remove them but nothing will improve as long as we continue to do things the way we are doing them now.

You ever wonder why the school district hasn’t just switched the faculty at Stanton one of the best schools in the whole country with one of the faculties at Ribault, Raines, Jackson or Forrest high schools, supposedly some of the worse that are about the same size. Why haven’t they done it, just pulled the trigger? Well it’s because they know it wouldn’t make the slightest difference. At the end of the day Stanton would still be one of the best schools in the nation and those others would still be struggling. Friends it’s not teachers that are destroying the American education system, it’s the policy makers, those in far off ivory towers many of who have never been in a classroom or if so it was in an era long past that are in the process of signing educations death warrant.

Teaching is the only profession I can think of run by non teachers and the only profession that anybody thinks they can do. Where is the man on the street when it comes to cancer, it’s been around for a while, shouldn’t doctors have cured it by now, you know what doctor quality must be a problem, lets replace all the doctors. Firemen and the police by-in-large, contractors, garbage workers, scientists, and engineers, and speaking of engineers where is my jet pack, if Gilligan had one in the seventies we should all have one now, the quality of our engineers must be abysmal, all get a pass from the man on the street and the editor typing away but teachers don’t.

Also if teaching is so easy, why do forty percent of teachers not last five years. If teaching is so easy why until the economy soured was there always a shortage, and if teaching is so easy, what were the five teachers who quit my school before the first nine weeks was over thinking? The truth is teaching is not easy, there are no summers off anymore and very few, despite the day for most starts well before nine, are home by five.

The system has put teachers in impossible situations and then told the public to point their fingers at them and demands their heads when they can’t succeed, well the system and editors of papers that is. Neither of who, actually get it.

Teachers did not decide to destroy discipline, I had a kid put his hands on me earlier this week and threaten to beat me up and because I was to slow getting the referal to the office they sent this charming young man back to his class and then when I asked a dean to come with me to confront another young man who refuses to come back to class after lunch, I was told she couldn’t be bothered.

Teachers did not put all kids into a one size fits all curriculum. Why are kids who want to work with their hands or who are interested in the liberal arts forced to take classes they aren’t only interested in but will never use. Not every kid is going to go to college and we need to start servicing their needs instead of sitting back and hoping somebody comes along with a magic wand and turns them into the kids we wish we had. Friends we have the kids we have, not the kids we wish we had and must plan accordingly.

Teachers did not systematically strip away the joy of learning from many children. Electives, the arts and trades have disappeared from many schools and we are forcing kids who we should be elated by if they read a comic book to read Ethan Frome or some other classic they neither want to nor can relate to.

Teachers did not decide that the massive volume of paper work that have very little to do with actual teaching is what they should be doing, nor did they decide to strip out their creativity and flexibility to adhere to learning schedules and pacing guides.

Teachers did not decide to institute high stakes testing, which is all education has become. They know a test should be a component of education not the end all be all that it is today.

Teachers did not put so many kids, influenced by their neighborhoods abandoned by their parents into yet one more no win situation, their schools. No friends, that was you man and woman on the street and editor of the paper, you did it by allowing special interests to hijack and people who have no business being anywhere near a school to be in charge of education, you did it, teachers are just playing the hand you dealt to them.

That’s not to say teachers haven’t done some things. Teachers did decide to enter the profession because they wanted to help children and because they wanted to make a difference, not to get rich or garner some authority or celebrity. Teachers also decided to sacrifice their precious time and money for the sake of their students often while their own children wait in extended day or go without and teachers by and large are doing the best they can with what they have been given, which sadly in many cases is not that much. It’s should be a credit to the fine men and women who show up everyday, underappreciated and the targets of the uninformed that they are holding things together as well as they are. This is what the public and Times Union editors should get about teachers. This is what they should think about before they start talking about improving teacher quality.

Paraphrasing Lieutenant Colonel Martin Jessup: Friends we live in a country that has schools many of which are struggling and those schools have to be manned with teachers. You going to do it man on the street, you going to do it editor of the newspaper? Teachers have a greater responsibility than you can fathom. You might weep for those children left behind and fallen through the cracks, I weep too but you have a luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. Because you don’t know the truth, because you do not want to know the truth.

I hope you get me, because anybody who feels teacher quality is the problem, obviously doesn’t get what is happening in our schools.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

We need comic books

At the end of the day groups of teachers will meet here and there and discuss things. You know, who acted up, what our classes need, how kids and teachers are constantly being scr…sorry was about to go on a rant there. We discuss various things that have to do with kids and teaching them. Well today the subject of reading came up.

One of our reading teachers told her administrator she needed books for a class library, this is week 13 of the school year by the way. Other than a teacher and her students going so long without resources this seems pretty reasonable right? Well if you have been working in Duval county public schools long enough you know that which often starts pretty reasonable quickly degenerates into the absurd or worse. This is another one of those cases.

The admin looked at my colleague and said, there are plenty of class sets of books in the library. And you know what she is right, we have Ethan Frome, the Grapes of Wrath and Pygmalion along with numerous other titles that no kid wants to read, why are we being punished they will ask if given. We have class set after class set of the classics, i.e. books that don’t relate to today’s kids, are way above their level; and that they just plain aren’t interested in.

I said to my friend, lets go look maybe we will get lucky. I helped my friend look through all the wasted money spent (there are literally hundreds of books gathering dust stacked up on the floor or in a deep crevice of the library that few venture in to) and after about ten minutes I suggested Animal Farm, partly because it is a pretty quick read and partly because education has become an Orwellian Dystopia which often makes no sense.

We want kids to read and all we provide them are books they aren’t interested in. The administrator didn’t seem to have a problem with this and neither do I bet her superiors all the way to the big office at 1701 Prudential drive though I hope you do. While you are considering that consider this, are you going to do better reading about things you are interested in, or reading about things you would have an almost impossible time relating to.

I looked at her and said you need comic books. I started reading comic books when I was eight. I was a Marvel kid and loved Spiderman, Captain America, the Invaders, Avengers and Defenders. My favorite character was the Vision and android that overcame his evil programming and joined the forces of good. It didn’t hurt that his powers and costume were cool and he married the ultra-hot Scarlet Witch either.

I loved reading comic books and this love of reading comic books developed into a love of reading regular books. By age 11 I was reading Robert H. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Steven King, Douglass Adams and others just for enjoyment and this love of reading followed me into adulthood but it all started with that first Spiderman comic book I bought when I was eight years old.

We need to cultivate a love of reading into today’s kids and where I know they are classics, Henry the VIII and the Taming of the Shrew just aren’t getting it done, going to do it. Once again education is providing resources for the kids it wishes it had, ones that love the classics and not the kids it does has, short attention spanned action junkies. We say reading is important but then don’t provide literature that the kids are interested in. This my friends is when the reasonable has degenerated into the absurd.

What my friend’s classroom needs as well as dozens of others throughout the district needs, is comic books and other books that today’s children would be interested in, and no friends I am not the smartest guy in the room nor a rocket scientist, just a master of stating the obvious. If we want to cultivate a love of reading into kids, lets at least give them a chance by letting them read things they might enjoy.