Florida Legislature upsurps local control

From the North Florida Daily News

by Katie Tammen

The Okaloosa County School Board has pushed back the start date for the 2012-13 school year.

In a unanimous vote earlier this week, the board opted to change the start date to Aug. 20.

The board originally had approved a calendar that would have started classes Aug. 9 and ended them May 22, 2013.

The school district decided to change next year’s calendar, in part, to align it with this year, when classes began Aug. 22.

School officials had planned to begin the current school year Aug. 5, but had to change it last spring after the district failed to meet the state standards for starting classes early.

Under state law, only school districts who earn high performing status from the Department of Education can begin classes more than two weeks before Labor Day.

“It’s prudent to go to a later start that we know can be consistent every year,” Ryan Gore, who oversees the calendar committee for the district, told the School Board on Monday night.

Aside from the different start date, the new calendar also will alter several school breaks and have the first semester conclude after the Christmas break.

Students will be off Nov. 19-23 for Thanksgiving, Dec. 21-Jan. 4 for Christmas and March 25-29 for spring break in 2013.

The school year will end June 6.

Superintendent of Schools Alexis Tibbetts said she wasn’t pleased that the district had to make the change and hopes to see amendments to state laws regarding school start dates.

“I haven’t given up on this. I feel like the state legislators’ intrusion into when local school districts start school is overreaching,” Tibbetts said. “The legislators should not tell school districts when to start school.”

She said the earlier start date can be key to helping students in all grade levels. For high school students, starting school earlier makes dual-enrollment, AP courses and college applications easier. Elementary students get more in-class instruction before they have to take the FCAT, which determines in some grades levels whether or not a student gets promoted.

Tibbetts said she and other superintendents and school boards across Florida plan to lobby for a change to the law in the near future.

“This law is counter to what we should be doing,” Tibbetts said. “There’s all kinds of unintended consequences with this legislation.”

Read more: http://www.nwfdailynews.com/articles/school-43940-calendar-year.html#ixzz1ZIWqWOUw

Is it time to elect Florida’s education commisioner?

Yes definitly. -cpg

From the St. Pertersburg Times Gradebook

by Jeff Solochek

Until Charlie Crist left the office, Florida’s education commissioner was an elected post. Several prominent leaders, including Frank Brogan and Doug Jamerson, held the job.

Since Crist, though, the position has been an appointed one, first by the governor and then by the State Board of Education.

State Sen. Joe Negron has proposed returning the choice to the voters. And, according to a new poll by Lobbytools (subscription required), a majority of voters agree.

In the poll, 56 percent of respondents answered Yes to the statement “the commissioner of education should be of the same stature as the CFO, attorney general and the commissioner of agriculture, and voters should be able to choose the best candidate.”

27 percent said, “No, it should be the governor’s prerogative to select a commissioner who supports his goals, and elections for the position would bring unnecessary and potentially harmful politics into education.”

17 percent said, “It doesn’t matter, as long as the commissioner fulfills his duties it makes no difference how he gets the position.”


How to make your kid a great reader

From CNN.com

by James Paterson

Editor’s note: James Patterson’s most recent book, “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life” is a No. 1 New York Times and No. 1 Indiebound best-seller. He is also the author of the award-winning “Maximum Ride,” “Daniel X,” and “Witch & Wizard” young adult series, and is the 2010 Children’s Choice Book Awards author of the year. In 2008, Patterson created www.ReadKiddoRead.com, a site dedicated to helping parents find books that will get their kids reading.

CNN) — You’re reading CNN.com, so maybe this isn’t a stress-inducing worry in your house, but for too many kids in this country, reading is a dirty word. Fortunately, we know exactly whom we have to talk to in order to start a much-needed intervention.

Sorry, moms and dads, but it’s your job — not the schools’ — to find books to get your kids reading and to make sure they read them.

Here’s some good news: This can often be as easy as teaching children to ride a two-wheeler or to throw a baseball. Case in point: When our son, Jack, was 8, he wasn’t a gung-ho reader. Now, I’m sure my wife, Sue, and I have made a half-million mistakes raising Jack, but during that eighth summer of our stewardship, we did something right: We told him he didn’t have to mow the lawn (hooray!), but he was going to read every day (boo).

We then told Jack we were going to help him find books we promised he would like: the Mom-and-Dad “Reading Can Be a Joy” Guarantee. We picked out “The Lightning Thief,” a book in the “Warriors” series, “A Wrinkle in Time,” “Al Capone Does My Shirts,” a novel from my own “Maximum Ride” series, and a few others. By the end of the summer, Jack had read half a dozen books that he loved, and his reading skills had improved dramatically.

Here’s a simple but powerful truth that many parents and schools don’t act on: The more kids read, the better readers they become.

The best way to get kids reading more is to give them books that they’ll gobble up — and that will make them ask for another. Yes, it’s that simple. 1 + 1 = 2. Kids say the No. 1 reason they don’t read more is that they can’t find books they like. Freedom of choice is a key to getting them motivated and excited. Vampire sagas, comics, manga, books of sports statistics — terrific! — as long as kids are reading. Should they read on e-tablets? Sure, why not? How about rereading a book? Definitely. And don’t tell them a book is too hard or too easy. “Great Expectations”? Absolutely. “Finnegans Wake”? Well, maybe not. And remember, books can be borrowed free at libraries.

Some schools and school systems are on top of the reading problem. Is yours?

Many schools around the country are successful at getting kids reading. That raises the obvious question: How come so many schools aren’t?

There are terrific models for success with reluctant readers, but many school systems and state governments need to set aside their “not invented here” and “we have more important problems than education” attitudes.

The Drop Everything and Read program is a brilliant learning tool used by more than a thousand schools. Drop Everything and Read schools devote one period a day to kids — and their teachers — doing nothing but reading, and mostly reading what they want to. The results can be dramatic.

The Knowledge Is Power Program schools in Washington require students to read at least 20 books a year and to carry a book with them at all times. Hooray! The Sun Prairie public schools in Wisconsin stopped buying textbooks and used the money to buy children’s trade books. Reading scores improved, because the kids wanted to read. P.S. 8 in the Bronx, New York, has a rotating library of student-published and student-illustrated books. Kids love books written by their peers. One Texas school librarian has a club for fourth- and fifth-grade boys called the BUBBAs. The kids read books such as “It’s Disgusting– and We Ate It!,” “Holes,” the “Time Warp Trio” series, and the “Joey Pigza” books. Silly, funny, and it works.

Speaking of boys, here’s how to get reluctant readers — er, boys — reading and loving it.

First, try to understand that boys can be a little squirrelly when it comes to reading, and what’s squirrelly about them needs to be praised and encouraged.

Boys should be made to feel all squishy inside about reading graphic novels, comics, pop-ups, joke books, and general-information tomes — especially the last. GuysRead.com has categories such as “Robots,” “How to Build Stuff,” “Outer Space, but with Aliens,” and “At Least One Explosion.” It’s a wonderful site for finding books that will turn boys on to reading.

Teachers and school administrators might want to consider this: in many schools, there’s a tendency not to reward boys for reading books like “Guinness World Records” or “Sports Illustrated Almanac” or “The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll.” Too often, boy-appealing books are disproportionately overlooked on recommended reading lists.

Big mistake. Tragic mistake. Avoidable mistake. It’s all about attitude. If your kids’ school library isn’t a boy magnet, the school probably needs to check its attitude.

Where to find books your kids will gobble up.

ReadKiddoRead.com, GuysRead.com, and Oprah.com’s Kids Reading List are excellent resources, and they’re simpler to use than an iPhone. The American Library Association and the Young Adult Library Services Association have recommendations for terrific books, easily found by searching “ALA reading lists.” DropEverythingandRead.com has a “Favorite D.E.A.R. Books” tab on its home page.

Most libraries and bookstores are extremely generous with their time and help. Kids and parents should visit Scholastic and other book fairs. Free or low-cost books for schools are available (while supplies last) at ReadKiddoRead.com, FirstBook.org, and ReadertoReader.org.

Reading role models, please apply here.

Let’s face it: Most of us don’t realize it, but we are failing our kids as reading role models. The best role models are in the home: brothers, fathers, grandfathers; mothers, sisters, grandmothers. Moms and dads, it’s important that your kids see you reading. Not just books — reading the newspaper is good too.

The president and the first lady can be powerful role models if they are willing to pitch in and press the issue from their bully pulpit. In England, the entire country celebrates World Book Day. Every young lass and bloke gets a pound to buy a book of their choice, and most bookstores lower prices for the day. Cheers for former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was an active role model for getting kids reading.

By showing more respect for books, kid-influential organizations such as ESPN, the NBA, and the NFL could help thousands of kids become better readers. I cringe when I hear college-educated sports announcers scoff at books during broadcasts because they’re afraid to man up to being readers themselves.

Hollywood studios and stars could inspire kids to read, but often don’t. Apparently, some film directors think it’s their civic duty to teach kids how to smoke. Magazines and newspapers could call attention to the reluctant reader and literacy problems on a daily or weekly basis. Fast-food chains could put stories in their kids’ meal boxes — most publishers will work with them. Video-game makers could incorporate written stories in their games; maybe it ought to be the price of admission for selling to kids. Many publishers could do a much better job of supplying free or low-cost books to schools in need.

Now, this entire article probably took you only a few minutes to read. Please don’t let your effort end here. While you’re thinking about it, send your thoughts, or even this piece, to your school principal or librarian. Heck, send it to the White House. If you have the means, offer to buy your local school a few good books. But most important, take your kids or grandkids or students to a library or a bookstore or go online to search for some books right now. If you have better ideas than the ones suggested here, terrific — please share them with your school, or in the comments section below, or at ReadKiddoRead.com.

Your taking action will speak louder than words to kids about the power and glory of reading: First you read, then you get up off your seat and do something to fix the problem.


There is no epidemic of bad teachers

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.

The deck is stacked against teachers at turn around schools

Not only do I work at one of these schools but I am also a stake holder in the community and am very concerned about the direction education is taking, as we all should be. The article was very revealing, reading between the line it talked about the plight of teachers and the absurdity of how things currently are in education.

Teachers as a group are nurturing, they have a need to give of themselves and a desire to be helpful. Unfortunately the powers-that-be know this and shamefully take advantage of those traits. The Times Union article, I think quite accidentally emphasized this point.

Trina Anderson the teacher profiled in the article mentioned how she works from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon every day, something that is more typical than you might think. But friends o you realize that is a ten hour day and Ms. Anderson is only getting paid for seven and a third hours of them. However it’s worse because she mentions even when home, she is constantly working on lesson plans, digging into data and working on her craft.

Vicki Reynolds the district’s director of human resources said, when talking about all the educators who have resigned, “I think the theme is, I didn’t know how much work this was going to be.” She might as well have said, the theme for teachers who stay should be to expect to be given more work than they can possibly do and not expect to get paid for a lot of it. They should also expect to give up time with their families, expect to do meaningless task after meaningless task, and expect to be taken advantage of by their employer.

I have a friend at an A school who has been teaching for nineteen years and she told me, it’s gotten so bad that if it was just her (she has two daughters) she would quit and get a job at the mall. I have another friend who has to take a break from writing lesson plans most nights so she can read and tuck in her sons, and then she is right back to it. These stories aren’t unusual they are in fact fairly typical of how things are. How is this right? Well the answer is it’s not, it’s embarrassing and wrong and the school district, the teachers union and the community as a whole should be ashamed of itself for letting it happen.

It’s also not vacancies that are preventing these turn around and intervening schools from improving, it’s the system. The teacher in the article has 31 children in her class, these are children at low performing schools with few economic resources and social safety nets, yet we cram them into classrooms like we do sardines into cans and then wonder why a few get left behind or underachieve.

Overwhelming teachers with task after task is no way to improve student performance either. The powers-that-be scream data, data, data, that they want data driven classrooms. If the state is so interested in collecting data why don’t they get statisticians to come in and do it? The answer is they don’t because they can force teachers to do it. Furthermore and sadly, all this data probably gives the teacher the same information they would have by merely working with their students for a few days.

And finally, where is the data that says posting standards, creating word walls, spending hours creating complicated lesson plans and inputting data help facilitate learning; the answer is there is none. If you want proof of this look at Ribault; the state has been there for years yet they are still failing. I do hear however that their bulletin boards are amazing. That is no dig at the fine staff of Ribault, I have no doubt that if the state would get out of their way they would improve.

Next, lesson plans; if the goal of the county is to turn teachers into drones or trained monkeys devoid of initiative, creativity and flexibility as they give teachers learning calendars, schedules and curriculums, instead of forcing teachers to spend hour after hour creating complicated lesson plans why don’t they just give lesson plans to teachers. Many teachers especially those that have been doing it for a while, use lesson plans just as a template, a list of thing s that they need to cover and rarely refer to them when they are actually teaching. Teachers differentiate their instruction to students not because it’s on a piece of paper but because they know that’s what their kids need.

Learning schedules are also a big part of the problem. Teachers are told continuously not to fall too far behind and after a while teachers are forced to move along regardless if the students have mastered the material or not. That is the reality of learning schedules. I teach a special education science class at a turnaround school and I recently had a student transfer into my class from a regular ed. science class that she had been failing. Before long she had an A and I asked her why she struggled in regular ed. and then was doing so well in my class especially since I follow the same standards. She told me that I went slow and drilled and made sure we knew the material before moving on to the next subject and in her other class they covered something and then moved on regardless of whether she got it or not. Kids learn at different rates and of Ms. Andersons thirty-one students; I wonder how many have been forced to move to the next subject even though they hadn’t mastered the last one, and this is through no fault of the teachers but because of leaning schedules?

You want education to improve, bring discipline back to the classroom, if a teacher spends ten percent of their time disciplining unruly or unmanageable students all of the other students lose out on 18 days of instructions. Teachers in big classrooms at turn around schools often spend far more than ten percent of their day instilling discipline. Then let teachers teach. The state should give teachers a (manageable) list of what they want covered and the materials to do so and then get out of their way.

Teachers don’t mind being held accountable, teachers don’t mind working hard and teachers don’t mind doing a little extra after all it is in their nature. They would however like to get paid a fair wage to so, be able to spend a decent amount of time with their families and not be taken advantage of. Right now that’s not how things are. The deck is stacked against teachers, and what the state doesn’t realize, is that if the deck is stacked against teachers it’s stacked against the children too, make that, they don’t realize or they don’t care.

Would you like a job as a teacher

Within minutes of meeting me I will often find some way to bring up the fact I am a teacher and I work with disabled children in a local public school. I used to love my job, it brought me such a great sense of pride, and where I still feel that, I often now feel frustration and angst too. One of the reasons for this is because teaching is one of the most misunderstood and quite frankly disrespected professions around.

I am sometimes asked aren’t you just glad you have a job and isn’t it great to have summers off, and my answer is always “yes very, however after a second or so, I throw in a, “but”. Now let me ask you a few questions.

Would you work a job where your bosses expected you to put in hundreds of unpaid hours of overtime? The modern teacher is supposed to be data driven which requires untold hours of data entry, this despite the fact most teachers can get the same information about their students by working with them for a few days.

Would you work for a job where you had to spend your money not just for the basic necessities that you needed but also to buy supplies for other people’s children too? I was given one hundred and seventy-five dollars in money to out-fit my classroom. A pencil sharpener, class note books for my kids and a scanner later it was all gone. Many teachers routinely spin hundreds if not thousands of dollars on their students and classrooms.

Would you work at a job where the powers that be piled on arduous and unnecessary task that had nothing to do with your job? The state makes teachers follow learning standards, schedules and curriculums but then requires teachers to spend hours writing lesson plans, why can’t we just use the aforementioned items? A colleague in a neighboring county told me how she was complimented on her lesson plans by her principal and as she walked away she thought to herself, well I write them just for you, I don’t use them for teaching and the kids never see them.

Would you work at a job where you were often disrespected and belittled by those you were charged to help, and then your higher ups looked at you like you were the problem? For consequences to be effective they must be meaningful. What can I take away from someone in my science class that will make them behave, what can I offer. If it gets to the point where my teacher look and me raising my voice doesn’t work there is not a whole lot else I can do, to get the defiant, disrespectful and disruptive student to behave. If I am forced to send them out, I often don’t often have time to call their parents or write the referral right then, after all I have other students who are willing to learn and listen that I have to take care of.

Would you work at a job where the higher ups blamed you when the things they tried to implement, without consulting you failed? Teachers did not get together and decided to socially promote children, nor did they add algebra II to the curriculum, take away art and music, reduce physical education, eliminate must vocational and trade programs, ask for Americas Choice or for the F-Cat. Yet when graduation rates drop and dropout rates rise teachers are the first to be blamed.

Would you sacrifice time with your family for your job? I have to leave my kids in extended day because I have to finish up my work and I can’t help my own child with their homework because I have to grade papers are things I have heard recently. Lesson plans and graded papers do not magically appear and there is rarely time during the day to do them.

Would you work at a job where you were paycheck to paycheck? My first year of teaching my contract was for twenty-six thousand six hundred dollars. By that winter I had four thousand in the bank. Fast-forward ten years and with prices rising and my student loans due, I am little more than paycheck-to-paycheck. Teachers everywhere live in fear of them or a family member getting sick, pray they won’t need new tires and more than a few have second jobs.

Would you work at a job where you received little direction about important things? A colleague of mine feeling overwhelmed, asked his administration to prioritize all the things he had to do and was told they are all equally important. Really, creating a word wall and making sure your bulletin board is standards based is just as important as teaching and engaging your students?

Would you work at a job where you were micromanaged about minutia? I was asked where my essential question was the other day, when I pointed to it on the board; I was asked why it wasn’t labeled essential question. The powers that be seem obsessed with how we have our boards set up, how our seats are arranged and if our lesson plans follow a certain format. I was told that during the state walk though that these are the things that they would be looking for not if students are engaged and learning.

Would you do a job where you were held responsible for other people’s performances? I would say the vast majority of students want to learn and want to do well. Sadly however there is a persistent ten percent or so that has no interest in school or learning, who’s main aim when they come is to cause trouble, yet teachers are still held accountable for their lack of effort and achievement as well as their behavior.

Would you work at a job where the powers that be scrapped one failed experiment after another without asking you what you need? Teaching in Duval County is like the weather in Florida, if you don’t like the latest county wide education policy wait a while and someone will read an article while waiting for a flight and we will be off to the next one; America’s choice or sophomores declaring majors and a half dozen computer programs anyone?

Would you work at a job where you ended up hurting the people you were supposed to help? I got a note from a former math teacher telling me how frustrated and sad she would get as she watched students who just wanted to be a truck driver struggle as they took algebra II. I myself often feel like I am part of the problem. All my kids I teach are getting special diplomas which are basically worthless; they won’t be able to join the military, go to college or be eligible for many jobs. I know they should either be in regular education classes and I should be providing them accommodations and modifications or they should be working on their GEDs but still I show up every day. Feeling like you are part of the problem is not a good feeling to have.

Teachers don’t do the job because they think they will get rich, but is it unreasonable for them to want to be able to pay their bills, help their children out and be prepared if an emergency should come up.

Teachers don’t do the job because they get the summers off. The sad fact is many teachers have to work second jobs over the summer to make ends meet; they also have to take classes and workshops, work on certifications and find ways to improve their crafts. Furthermore technically teachers don’t get paid over the summer, they are unemployed.

Teachers don’t do the job just so they can say they are happy to have a job. They do it because they want to make a difference. They do it because they care about children and that’s more important to them than all of the other things they have to go through combined.

In case you were wondering about what my “but” from the beginning was , its life shouldn’t just be about being happy to have a job.

In education common sense is not all that common

I am a big believer in the law of parsimony, which is the principle that entities should not be multiplied needlessly; others however may prefer Ockham’s razor which is a rule in science that says the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable and that an explanation for unknown phenomena should first be attempted in terms of what is already known but actually both of those are just fancy ways of saying that good old common sense should prevail, which is something sadly currently missing from our education system.

You want schools to do better, instead of reinventing the wheel and taking away what precious little time teachers have to make an impact by forcing them to tedious and unnecessary things, why don’t we try giving teachers the resources they need and then bring discipline back to the classroom, those two things alone should be worth an extra letter grade. Instead of doing those two things teachers are told we must have our standards posted on our walls, something in my nine years of teaching no child has ever taken a look at, and we must have our classrooms uniform, with our classroom libraries labeled and our parent teacher logs and lesson plans easily accessible.

I teach at a “turn around school” a fancy way of saying mostly minority and poor and since I teach at a turn around school I was told all these things and a nearly endless list more had to be done. I was also told that I could expect routine visits from state representatives of the department of education and if they weren’t, I would get dinged or hit and a note would be put in my permanent file, my evaluation could suffer and I could even possibly loose my job, I wasn’t the only one told this as the same thing was said to the entire faculty. Presumably this same message was give to dozens of other “ under performing” schools.

I was also told that during these walk abouts they really wouldn’t be interested to see how I was teaching or to judge it’s effectiveness, no they just wanted to make sure I had my getting on the computer procedures posted or student work displayed, not that either of those things makes the first bit of difference in learning.

Furthermore say goodbye to innovation and creativity, as the department of education seems hell bent on eliminating those two things. They are replacing them with learning schedules, lesson plans and agendas that can’t be deviated from. Soon they may replace teachers with VCR’s and one trained chimp to hit play, after all that’s all education will need with this one schedule fits all system they are attempting to jam don our throats.

There was a palpable since of fear and trepidation at my school this past week during pre-planning as they were told about change after change that the state was requiring. When talking to other teachers, “how are things going” was answered at best with, “it is what it is” or “it’s going” but more often with, “I am afraid about what’s going to happen during the upcoming year” or “can’t talk need to go spend three hours creating a bulletin board”. Planning for the kids was replaced with getting the fore mentioned bulletin boards ready and making sure our desks were arranged in the state mandated way.

I can see how it started, someone in Tallahassee after reading an obscure article on education, shortly followed by a light bulb going off over their head, said to themselves, “I know how we can fix education, If only teachers would all have had word walls all these years then our state of affairs would be so much better”. Next thing you know it is in a bill and teachers are spending hours creating one.

Furthermore, today’s teacher is already sometimes a counselor, parent, big brother or big sister, guardian, friend, disciplinarian and ass kicker, but now we also now have to add statistician to the list as we were told the state is going to want lots and lots of data as well, we were actually told that they love graphs. This way they can see how effective our teaching it, strangely I thought that was what the almost universally reviled and discredited F-CAT was for. The F-CAT is so unimportant that they initially decided to eliminate the F-CAT writes section this year because they couldn’t afford to hire people to grade it, however flush with stimulus cash it may be back on.

When did they spring most of the changes that need to occur on teachers? If you guessed the Thursday of preplanning you have guessed correctly. Giving us two days to set up our classroom and plan accordingly for the upcoming school year.

People don’t become teachers to get rich or even acknowledgement. In fact in recent years because we have summers off, are often home by three or four and the state developed a grading system that called some schools successes and others failures there has been a bit of backlash against teachers, that they are under performing and part of the problem but nothing could be farther from the truth. Most people have no idea how much unpaid over time teachers work or how much of their own resources they pump int their classrooms. Furthermore, teachers today are better trained, more capable and experts at doing more with less than at anytime in history.

The problems in education here in Florida started when the state government began to siphon off money intended for education to give tax breaks to big businesses and people that owned second homes, and when they created a test, the F-CAT, which has become a pox on the whole education system. These things were further exacerbated here in Jacksonville with the creation of magnet schools which have created a two tiered education system, continuing, if you sprinkle in the fact that it is has become nearly impossible to get help for unruly students, then why things are such a mess becomes readily apparent. My question to you is, how are these things teachers’ faults.

Common sense should tell the powers that be the answer shouldn’t be to pile on tons of additional tasks on teachers already over burdened shoulders or worse to make them afraid for their jobs if all the new ducks dropped into their laps aren’t in the exact same row. Things would be much better if our elected officials looked up the law of parsimony in the dictionary and went with it, because it’s obvious they didn’t learn what it meant while they were in school.

NCLB kneecaps education, no relief in sight

From the Washington Posts Answer Sheet

By Richard Rothstein

Diane Ravitch is a glass half-empty kind of gal, while I suffer from excessive Panglossian tendencies. In the spring of 2007, we made a bet. The payoff is dinner at the River Café, at the foot of Brooklyn Heights, overlooking New York harbor and the Manhattan skyline, tucked neatly under the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Four and a half years ago, we surveyed the damage being done to American education by NCLB, the No Child Left Behind iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act:

* conversion of struggling elementary schools into test-prep factories;

* narrowing of curriculum so that disadvantaged children who most need enrichment would be denied lessons in social studies, the sciences, the arts and music, even recess and exercise, so that every available minute of the school day could be devoted to drill for tests of basic skills in math and reading;

* demoralization of the best teachers, now prohibited from engaging children in discovery and instead required to follow pre-set instructional scripts aligned with low-quality tests;

* and the boredom and terror of young children who no longer looked forward to school but instead anticipated another day of rote exercises and practice testing designed to increase scores by a point or two.

Diane morosely predicted that, despite this evident disaster, NCLB would certainly be reauthorized with its destructive testing and accountability provisions intact. After all, she moaned, it had the support of elites from both parties, the Washington think tanks, the big foundations, and the editorial boards of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other influential media outlets. No serious opposition was visible. How could the law not be continued? Indeed, she worried, its supporters were so removed from the reality of classrooms, so impervious to evidence, they could well decide to intensify requirements that schools chase phony test score gains to the exclusion of all else.

I smugly responded, “not a chance.” The NCLB accountability system is so self-evidently calamitous that its principles will never survive congressional reauthorization. Don’t pay attention to elite opinion, I said. The internal contradictions of a law that orders all children nationwide to perform above-average are so explosive that any attempts to “fix” them (as policymakers were then vowing to do) would never be able to claim a congressional majority, no matter how obstinate NCLB’s supporters might be.

For example, I said to Diane, consider the law’s absurd demand to prohibit the normal variability of human ability so that all children, from the unusually gifted to the mentally retarded, must achieve above the same “challenging” level of proficiency by 2014. The only way states could fulfill this requirement would be to define “challenging proficiency” at such a low level that even the least talented of students could meet it. NCLB enthusiasts would then cry “foul” and insist that a reauthorized law allow Congress to dictate a national proficiency standard.

But this, in turn, would make the law unacceptable to supporters who had gone along in 2002 only because they felt assured that federal intrusion into state control of education would be limited. Or if, instead, NCLB proponents attempted to mollify critics by giving schools more flexibility — for example, by permitting them to escape condemnation for not meeting impossible academic benchmarks by citing other measures, like attendance rates or parent satisfaction — the NCLB enthusiasts would balk at this backdoor way of “leaving children behind.”

There is no way out of this impasse, I assured Diane. NCLB will limp along past its 2007 expiration date, with no possible map for reauthorization, with temporary annual continuing resolutions while proponents fruitlessly attempt to conceive of ways to climb out of the holes into which they had dug themselves.

Eventually, I told Diane, by 2016, we’ll still be requiring all children to be proficient by 2014, and declaring virtually every school in the country to be failing. At some point, I predicted, some secretary of education would have no choice but to issue waivers from the law’s requirements to every state in the country while the law itself remained on the books, an embarrassing monument to policy foolishness.

Everything I predicted has now come to pass, and I should be able to call Diane’s hand and collect my dinner at the River Café. But I’m afraid I must concede. I won the bet on technical points, but Diane won on the merits. The glass really is half-empty, maybe more so.

What I had not anticipated was that a secretary of education (Arne Duncan, it turned out to be) would use his authority to grant waivers to states (now all of them) unable to meet NCLB’s requirements, conditioning the waivers on states’ agreements to adopt accountability conditions that are even more absurd, more unworkable, more fanciful than those in the law itself. Mr. Duncan’s philosophy has been revealed: if a policy fails, the solution should be to do more of it.

So the secretary is now kicking the ball down the road. States will be excused from making all children proficient by 2014 if they agree instead to make all children “college-ready” by 2020. If NCLB’s testing obsession didn’t suffice to distinguish good schools from failing ones, states can be excused from loss of funds if they instead use student test scores to distinguish good teachers from bad ones. Without any reauthorization of NCLB, Mr. Duncan will now use his waiver authority to demand, in effect, even more test-prep, more drill, more unbalanced curricula, more misidentification of success and failure, more demoralization of good teachers, and more needless stress for young children.

The Obama administration is presenting its waiver proposal as the grant of new “flexibility” to states. Yes, perhaps. If states agree to implement Mr. Duncan’s favored reforms of evaluating teachers by student test scores and expanding charter schools, and if states promise to meet even more impossible “college ready” standards established by the federal government, the secretary will let them figure out on their own how to do it.

Some Republicans have complained. The secretary, they say, cannot do an end run around Congress by implementing his own more extreme version of No Child Left Behind, when he has been unsuccessful in getting Congress to enact these very same proposals into the law itself.

But these critics, most of whom supported NCLB in 2002, have only themselves to blame. They initially wrote into the law the right of a secretary to issue waivers based only on his or her own personal fantasies about what constitutes a state pledge to increase (sic) the quality of instruction and improve academic achievement – to be precise, in NCLB’s Title IX, Part D, Sections 9401(b)(1)(i) and (ii).

And Arne Duncan has gotten away with this before. Here, Democrats should be ashamed. In February 2009, when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the ARRA, or “stimulus” bill) was enacted, Republicans charged that the law had little to do with job creation or economic growth, but was only a subterfuge for the Obama administration to make social policy without congressional debate.

Mostly, the Republican charge had no merit but in the case of education policy, it hits the mark. The secretary has been distributing more than $4 billion in ARRA grants only to states that entered and won his Race to the Top competition by promising to raise standards even higher than those unachievable under NCLB.

These so-called stimulus funds are not distributed to states with the highest unemployment rates but to those that outbid others by promising to establish data systems to evaluate teachers based on students’ math and reading scores, be most ruthless in firing teachers and principals in schools with low scores, and replace them with the most rapid expansion of charter schools.

The Duncan policies, like NCLB, will eventually implode. But the damage being done to American public education has now gone on for so long that it will have enduring effects. Schools will not soon be able to implement a holistic education to disadvantaged children. Disillusioned and demoralized teachers who have abandoned the profession or have retired are now being rapidly replaced by a new generation of drill sergeants, well-trained in the techniques of “data-driven instruction.” This cannot easily be undone.

Some state education officials have murmured intents to refuse the Duncan waiver conditions, and dare him then to withhold federal education dollars. But there is little indication that these officials will follow through, or that others will join the resistance. Most states will meekly apply for the Duncan waivers. Courage is in short supply among education and policy leaders.

So Diane, start perusing the menu. My victory on points is to no avail. I owe you dinner.


Republicans bias towards charter schools causes public schools to suffer

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Its appears as if some different types of school reform proposals will back taken up in the next legislative session. Will the legislature be granting some of the same “freedoms” that charter schools enjoy to public schools? Writes Allison Ross of the Palm Beach Post.

Practically since the first charters were authorized in Florida in 1996, school districts have grumbled about the flexibility charter schools have compared with traditional public schools.

Now, some school districts in the state have decided to try to get in on some of the action.

Palm Beach County and other school districts throughout the state are looking to tap into some of the breaks that charter schools get by opening their own district-run charters.

In Palm Beach County, the idea of opening a district-operated charter school is still in its infancy, but it’s one that district leaders appear enthusiastic about. They say they’re watching other school districts, such as in Polk and Miami-Dade counties, that are opening district-operated charter schools.

“We’ve kicked the idea around a bit,” said Judy Klinek, Palm Beach County School District’s chief academic officer. “There may be some freedoms we could tap into.”

Define freedoms.

The typical PR talking points are that charters have more freedom in hiring and firing, but have to hire state certified teachers. But while having to take state-wide tests, they can create their own curriculum and have the final decision regarding the length of their school day. There is no mention in the article of charter school’s notorious reputation for cherry-picking students and rotating the most troublesome students back to public schools to protect their test results.

At an rate, one key will be pressing the legislature.

The Florida School Boards Association also is expected to ask the state legislature this session to consider changing state law to lift some of the restrictions school districts have that charter schools do not.

“There’s a growing disparity between what’s considered a traditional public school, and the rigors and mandates that are imposed (on it ), versus the broad flexibility offered to charters,” said Ruth Melton, FSBA’s director of legislative relations.

She said the disparity in rules on class sizes has been a major issue. While traditional schools must meet state-mandated class-size limits in each of their core classes, charter schools are required to meet them at a school-level average instead of by individual class.

The Post went to an important GOP legislator for their story. Sen. David Simmons of Maitland called for a special session in July to restore education funding. Here’s what he told the Post yesterday.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, head of the education appropriations committee, said he has been approached by school districts proposing legislation to provide them with greater flexibility.

He noted that traditional public schools serve the “vast majority” of Florida’s student population. About 2.65 million Florida students attend public schools, with less than 155,000 of those attending charter schools.

“We don’t want to do anything that’s going to diminish the accountability that school districts have,” Simmons said. “At the same time, I want them to have as much flexibility as possible to do the same thing charter schools do, which is to innovate.”

It’s disappointing that Simmons would use a corporate reform buzz word like “innovate.” But to bring proposals like these to the public can illustrate what Florida taxpayers are getting – and losing – through the republicans clear bias in favor of charter schools.


Rick Scott sets legislative priorities. Priority one destroy public education

He wants to create “Education Spending Accounts” so that parents can take money from the public school system and spend it on outside educational needs. This has disaster written all over it. First where will the accountability be and second who will be eligible for them? This will become welfare for the well off as much needed funds are diverted from public education.

Charter schools would continue to gain strength if the governor succeeds with his proposal to allow a public school to become a charter school with a majority vote of the parents, instead of a majority vote of the teachers. You know charter schools run by for profit companies that overwhelming don’t do as well as their public school counterparts. And where I hate to say it and I think parents should be involved and consulted, shouldn’t it be the experts, the teachers, who ultimately make the decisions? If teachers would have been consulted in policy making, then we would not be in the mess we are in now.

He also is considering asking legislators to adopt the Texas approach to higher education “and better link job market demands to degrees.” Not only is Texas’s education system in worse shape than ours but isn’t this a case of if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. Rick Scott’s policies for higher education are just assuring more of the best and brightest either flee the state or don’t come here.

How much more of this man and the republican legislature’s policies that have run education into the ground can we afford to take?

Excerpts taken from the Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog