Common sense policies the Duval County School Board doesn’t have

The school board is not notified when a principal is fired during the year, which I would think is a pretty big deal. Likewise they are left out of the loop if a teacher is being investigated by the DCF for inappropriate contact with a child, another really big deal.

How hard would it be for them to get an e-mail when these things happen?

Apparently common sense isn’t all that common at 1701 Prudential drive.

Is no one in the DCPS responsible for the Chris Bacca sexual allegation case?

Sonita Young said from the 2009 allegations, the investigator, director of HR and head of Professional standards have all resigned or retired.

Hmm what about the super and at least 4 members of the school board? Or does the buck stop a lot lower than the top in Duval County?

If it turns out he is guilty then the district blew it but don’t expect anybody at the district level to take responsibility, they only do that when good things happen.

Is Connie Hall offering a quid pro quo to Doug Ayers

Connie Hall is running for the school board, Doug Ayers has applied for the superintendent position. Doug Ayers donated to Connie Hall’s campaign The appearance of impropriety is all over this. If Connie Hall is elected and the school board hasn’t chosen a superintendent, Mrs. Hall will have to recuse herself or her judgment and integrity will be called into question.

Speaking of integrety issues does that remind you of anybody else that came out of district 5? Perhaps Mrs. Burney, Halls mentor?

The Duval County School Board doesn’t practice what they preach

According to Times Union editor Jeff Reece, school board meetings typically start late. I wonder what would happen if teachers typically started their classes late? I know it’s a little thing but as leaders of the district shouldn’t they practice what they preach? These meetings are always scheduled days in advance and I imagine only after the school board has been consulted to see what time is good for them.

We can’t even get a meeting time right.

Politifact gives Gerard Robinson a false on the FCAT

From Politifact

The perennial cry from parents and teachers who criticize the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is that students are spending too much time on those tests. And that cry grew louder when the state announced that FCAT scores plunged in 2012 after a revamping of the test.

Students take the high-stakes exam for math, reading and other subjects in grades 3 through 10. Third-graders who get low scores are at risk of being held back. Students ultimately must pass the FCAT — or earn an equivalent score on the SAT or ACT — to graduate with a standard diploma.

Gov. Rick Scott said in July that it’s time to take a second look at the FCAT after the state has received so many complaints from parents about the tests. Scott told a conference of newspaper editors that between the FCAT and other tests, students may be tested too much.

Scott’s education commissioner appointee, Gerard Robinson, has been playing defense about the FCAT since the state announced earlier this year that a new grading formula would result in a drop in school grades. Statewide, the percentage of A schools dropped from 58 to 48 percent.

Reflecting a backlash against testing, more than a dozen individual school boards in the state, including Broward and Palm Beach, have passed a resolution against the FCAT. The Florida School Boards Association passed its own version of a resolution criticizing the FCAT in June.

Robinson penned a June 15 response, which included these comments: “The FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year. It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state.”

There are a few interesting claims in Robinson’s statement, but the one that caught our eye was that tiny figure: The FCAT accounts for “less than 1 percent of instructional time.” Heck, we wonder if lunch or recess could add up to more than 1 percent. So we decided to research whether Robinson’s 1 percent claim was correct.

The Education Department’s explanation

Robinson’s chief of staff John Newman told us in a July 19 interview that the education department staff pulled together figures for Robinson about a month ago in response to the public’s concerns about the amount of time spent on the FCAT.

He sent us a copy of an excel spreadsheet showing how much time is spent taking the test. This refers only to the minutes to take that exam — not the amount of time spent preparing for it during regular school hours or after-hour extra sessions that some students participate in.

By dividing the number of minutes spent on the FCAT by the number of minutes in a school year (54,000 minutes based on 900 minimum hours of school instruction a year), the education department determined that students spend anywhere from .26 to .90 percent of their time taking the test.

But Robinson used the phrase “instructional time” in his claim, which could fairly be interpreted to mean classroom time spent preparing for the test.

School districts aren’t required to track how much time they spend preparing students for the test. For example, multiplication and division are included on the FCAT for certain grade levels, but math teachers don’t have to document how many minutes the class spent on multiplication versus division. And an English teacher doesn’t have to document how many minutes are related to reading comprehension portions of the FCAT.

That’s why determining how much time is spent “teaching to the test” is somewhat subjective.

“I guess you could say the whole year is test prep,” Newman, Robinson’s chief of staff, told PolitiFact.

We asked Newman: Why is it valid to only look at the minutes spent actually taking the test and not factor in how much time is spent preparing for the test?

He said it’s up to the school districts to determine how to teach those standards that are assessed on the FCAT — and those methods can vary from school to school.

“If they choose to do that sitting there drilling practice tests all day, that’s their choice,” Newman said.

A state law says that schools can’t suspend “a regular program of curricula for purposes of administering practice tests or engaging in other test-preparation activities for a statewide assessment.” But the law also says that schools can administer sample tests, teach test-taking strategies and teach the skills that will be assessed.

What educators say

We asked a few Florida teachers how much “instructional time” they spend on the FCAT. Our teachers from Miami-Dade included Alexandria Martin, an English teacher at Carol City High School, Whitson Carter, a math teacher at Filer Middle School, and Cassandra Harley, a third-grade teacher at North Beach Elementary School. In Broward we interviewed Angel Welsh, who teaches sixth-grade language arts at Nova.

All three of our Dade teachers said that FCAT preparation accounts for the majority of their school year — or at least through the dates in the spring when the students take the FCAT. Students take practice tests at certain points during the year so schools can measure their progress toward the FCAT and prepare students to take timed tests. And FCAT prep isn’t limited to school hours — districts have the option of adding extra help before or after school or on the weekends.

“The tests are always on the forefront of teachers’ minds, students’ minds,” said Martin, who has taught for seven years.

Throughout the year, teachers have benchmarks to prepare students for the FCAT. So if Martin’s class is reading Othello, she makes sure they understand vocabulary, the author’s purpose, and reference and research skills.

“Hopefully I am preparing them for the real world, but the test is always at the forefront,” she said.

Welsh, who has taught for 23 years, said that about six weeks before the FCAT she spends about half of each 90-minute period on FCAT preparation. But she also spends time throughout the year on teaching vocabulary and reading comprehension, which is assessed on the FCAT.

“I know what I’m going to cover and how I’m going to cover it, with or without FCAT,” she said. “I feel good teaching leads to a good FCAT score. … I know (the test) is in my peripheral vision back there. I really try not to let it guide my instruction, but does it sometimes? I’m sure it does.”

Our ruling

Robinson said that the FCAT tests “account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year.” This was a prepared statement, based on research done by his staff, in response to FCAT critics who say that schools devote too much time to the tests.

Readers could assume that by “instructional time” Robinson was including regular lesson time in the classroom preparing for the FCAT. He wasn’t. His office says that referred to the number of minutes taking the test out of the total minutes of instruction per year. But he didn’t provide that explanation in his statement.

In reality, there is no clear way to quantify how much time teachers spend preparing students for the test. Some teachers say they spend practically all their time on the FCAT.

Robinson’s goal was to deflect criticism that too much time is spent “teaching to the test.” He is suggesting that the FCAT eats up only a smidgen of a school year. But for students, parents and teachers who spend months preparing for those tests, Robinson’s words are misleading.

We rate this claim False.

How algebra wrecked the country

From the New York Times, by Andrew Hacker

A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.

My question extends beyond algebra and applies more broadly to the usual mathematics sequence, from geometry through calculus. State regents and legislators — and much of the public — take it as self-evident that every young person should be made to master polynomial functions and parametric equations.

There are many defenses of algebra and the virtue of learning it. Most of them sound reasonable on first hearing; many of them I once accepted. But the more I examine them, the clearer it seems that they are largely or wholly wrong — unsupported by research or evidence, or based on wishful logic. (I’m not talking about quantitative skills, critical for informed citizenship and personal finance, but a very different ballgame.)

This debate matters. Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.

The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nation’s shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school. In South Carolina, 34 percent fell away in 2008-9, according to national data released last year; for Nevada, it was 45 percent. Most of the educators I’ve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.

Shirley Bagwell, a longtime Tennessee teacher, warns that “to expect all students to master algebra will cause more students to drop out.” For those who stay in school, there are often “exit exams,” almost all of which contain an algebra component. In Oklahoma, 33 percent failed to pass last year, as did 35 percent in West Virginia.

Algebra is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white. In New Mexico, 43 percent of white students fell below “proficient,” along with 39 percent in Tennessee. Even well-endowed schools have otherwise talented students who are impeded by algebra, to say nothing of calculus and trigonometry.

California’s two university systems, for instance, consider applications only from students who have taken three years of mathematics and in that way exclude many applicants who might excel in fields like art or history. Community college students face an equally prohibitive mathematics wall. A study of two-year schools found that fewer than a quarter of their entrants passed the algebra classes they were required to take.

“There are students taking these courses three, four, five times,” says Barbara Bonham of Appalachian State University. While some ultimately pass, she adds, “many drop out.”

Another dropout statistic should cause equal chagrin. Of all who embark on higher education, only 58 percent end up with bachelor’s degrees. The main impediment to graduation: freshman math. The City University of New York, where I have taught since 1971, found that 57 percent of its students didn’t pass its mandated algebra course. The depressing conclusion of a faculty report: “failing math at all levels affects retention more than any other academic factor.” A national sample of transcripts found mathematics had twice as many F’s and D’s compared as other subjects.

Nor will just passing grades suffice. Many colleges seek to raise their status by setting a high mathematics bar. Hence, they look for 700 on the math section of the SAT, a height attained in 2009 by only 9 percent of men and 4 percent of women. And it’s not just Ivy League colleges that do this: at schools like Vanderbilt, Rice and Washington University in St. Louis, applicants had best be legacies or athletes if they have scored less than 700 on their math SATs.

It’s true that students in Finland, South Korea and Canada score better on mathematics tests. But it’s their perseverance, not their classroom algebra, that fits them for demanding jobs.

Nor is it clear that the math we learn in the classroom has any relation to the quantitative reasoning we need on the job. John P. Smith III, an educational psychologist at Michigan State University who has studied math education, has found that “mathematical reasoning in workplaces differs markedly from the algorithms taught in school.” Even in jobs that rely on so-called STEM credentials — science, technology, engineering, math — considerable training occurs after hiring, including the kinds of computations that will be required. Toyota, for example, recently chose to locate a plant in a remote Mississippi county, even though its schools are far from stellar. It works with a nearby community college, which has tailored classes in “machine tool mathematics.”

That sort of collaboration has long undergirded German apprenticeship programs. I fully concur that high-tech knowledge is needed to sustain an advanced industrial economy. But we’re deluding ourselves if we believe the solution is largely academic.

A skeptic might argue that, even if our current mathematics education discourages large numbers of students, math itself isn’t to blame. Isn’t this discipline a critical part of education, providing quantitative tools and honing conceptual abilities that are indispensable — especially in our high tech age? In fact, we hear it argued that we have a shortage of graduates with STEM credentials.

Of course, people should learn basic numerical skills: decimals, ratios and estimating, sharpened by a good grounding in arithmetic. But a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above. And if there is a shortage of STEM graduates, an equally crucial issue is how many available positions there are for men and women with these skills. A January 2012 analysis from the Georgetown center found 7.5 percent unemployment for engineering graduates and 8.2 percent among computer scientists.

Peter Braunfeld of the University of Illinois tells his students, “Our civilization would collapse without mathematics.” He’s absolutely right.

Algebraic algorithms underpin animated movies, investment strategies and airline ticket prices. And we need people to understand how those things work and to advance our frontiers.

Quantitative literacy clearly is useful in weighing all manner of public policies, from the Affordable Care Act, to the costs and benefits of environmental regulation, to the impact of climate change. Being able to detect and identify ideology at work behind the numbers is of obvious use. Ours is fast becoming a statistical age, which raises the bar for informed citizenship. What is needed is not textbook formulas but greater understanding of where various numbers come from, and what they actually convey.

What of the claim that mathematics sharpens our minds and makes us more intellectually adept as individuals and a citizen body? It’s true that mathematics requires mental exertion. But there’s no evidence that being able to prove (x² + y²)² = (x² – y²)² + (2xy)² leads to more credible political opinions or social analysis.

Many of those who struggled through a traditional math regimen feel that doing so annealed their character. This may or may not speak to the fact that institutions and occupations often install prerequisites just to look rigorous — hardly a rational justification for maintaining so many mathematics mandates. Certification programs for veterinary technicians require algebra, although none of the graduates I’ve met have ever used it in diagnosing or treating their patients. Medical schools like Harvard and Johns Hopkins demand calculus of all their applicants, even if it doesn’t figure in the clinical curriculum, let alone in subsequent practice. Mathematics is used as a hoop, a badge, a totem to impress outsiders and elevate a profession’s status.

It’s not hard to understand why Caltech and M.I.T. want everyone to be proficient in mathematics. But it’s not easy to see why potential poets and philosophers face a lofty mathematics bar. Demanding algebra across the board actually skews a student body, not necessarily for the better.

I WANT to end on a positive note. Mathematics, both pure and applied, is integral to our civilization, whether the realm is aesthetic or electronic. But for most adults, it is more feared or revered than understood. It’s clear that requiring algebra for everyone has not increased our appreciation of a calling someone once called “the poetry of the universe.” (How many college graduates remember what Fermat’s dilemma was all about?)

Instead of investing so much of our academic energy in a subject that blocks further attainment for much of our population, I propose that we start thinking about alternatives. Thus mathematics teachers at every level could create exciting courses in what I call “citizen statistics.” This would not be a backdoor version of algebra, as in the Advanced Placement syllabus. Nor would it focus on equations used by scholars when they write for one another. Instead, it would familiarize students with the kinds of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives.

It could, for example, teach students how the Consumer Price Index is computed, what is included and how each item in the index is weighted — and include discussion about which items should be included and what weights they should be given.

This need not involve dumbing down. Researching the reliability of numbers can be as demanding as geometry. More and more colleges are requiring courses in “quantitative reasoning.” In fact, we should be starting that in kindergarten.

I hope that mathematics departments can also create courses in the history and philosophy of their discipline, as well as its applications in early cultures. Why not mathematics in art and music — even poetry — along with its role in assorted sciences? The aim would be to treat mathematics as a liberal art, making it as accessible and welcoming as sculpture or ballet. If we rethink how the discipline is conceived, word will get around and math enrollments are bound to rise. It can only help. Of the 1.7 million bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2010, only 15,396 — less than 1 percent — were in mathematics.

I’ve observed a host of high school and college classes, from Michigan to Mississippi, and have been impressed by conscientious teaching and dutiful students. I’ll grant that with an outpouring of resources, we could reclaim many dropouts and help them get through quadratic equations. But that would misuse teaching talent and student effort. It would be far better to reduce, not expand, the mathematics we ask young people to imbibe. (That said, I do not advocate vocational tracks for students considered, almost always unfairly, as less studious.)

Yes, young people should learn to read and write and do long division, whether they want to or not. But there is no reason to force them to grasp vectorial angles and discontinuous functions. Think of math as a huge boulder we make everyone pull, without assessing what all this pain achieves. So why require it, without alternatives or exceptions? Thus far I haven’t found a compelling answer.

Andrew Hacker is an emeritus professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York, and a co-author of “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It.”

Nancy Broner: Public opinion, not evidence should drive education reforms

In an article about increasing teacher effectiveness, Mrs. Broner said, The coalition can’t force anyone to implement the recommendations. But it wields the power of public opinion, Broner said.

“The voice of the community through the coalition and the networking that took place is hoped to be heard by the union as well as the district. This is where the community can have some impact,” Broner said.

They I read this is it doesn’t matter if some of the recommendations are bad or not. Such an amazing display of hubris but I guess shouldn’t expect more from former school board members.

Mrs. Broner here is a clue, just because you and this crew of non teachers recommend it, it doesn’t make it a good idea


Chris Guerrieri: The marginalization of teachers continues

The Northeast Florida Coalition of Education made recommendations to improve teaching. The coalition had 45 members of which only two were teachers. Their recommendations ranged from ridiculous, having students evaluate teachers, to decent, have mentors spend more time with new teachers, but not practical, who is going to teach the mentor’s classes? They also tried to push merit pay once again even though study after study says it doesn’t work. When wil they understand that teachers aren’t bankers and they operate and think differently and we need solutions based on evidence not on non-educators guts?

We have problems in education but they are never going to be fixed as long as blue ribbon panels like above continue to ignore and marginalize teachers.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Another blue ribbon panel excludes teachers: only 2 out of 45 making recommendations are teachers

Today in the Times Union there was a big article about improving the teacher evaluation process. 45 members made up the group and of them only two were 2 teachers. That’s right friends, they brought two token teachers on board to discuss improving teaching.

We wonder why we have problems in education? Maybe its because those charged with educating are the ones always left out of the loop.

Finally I would just like to say that if you look at the list you will find a lot of the usual establishment suspects and if they establishment got us to where we are at, why should we continue to listen to anything they say.

Management Team 1.Terrie Brady, President, Duval County Teachers United
2.Nancy Broner, Duval County School Board
3.Zachary Champagne, 2010 Teacher of the Year
4.Trey Csar, President, Jacksonville Public Education Fund
5.John Hirabayashi , CEO, Community First Credit Union
6.Connie Hodges, President, United Way of Northeast Florida
7.Crystal Jones, Executive Director, Teach for America
8.Vicki Reynolds, Chief Human Resource Officer, DCPS

Coalition Members 1.The late Ann Baker, Community Volunteer
2.Joey Baker, FSCJ student and graduate of Peterson Academy
3.Martha Barrett, Duval County School Board and Bank of America
4.Tammy Boyd, Principal, Ft. Caroline Middle School
5.Jennifer Bridwell, Principal, Ft. Caroline Middle School
6.Dr. Carole Byrd, Dean of Education, FSCJ
7.Nancy Carter, Principal, Hyde Grove Elementary
8.Dr. Matt Corrigan, Chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of North Florida
9.Becki Couch, Duval County School Board
10.Dr. Larry Daniel, Dean of Education, University of North Florida
11.Julie Delegal, Save Duval Schools, journalist
12.Nancy Dreicer, District Administrator, Department of Children & Family Services
13.Dr. Lissa Dunn, Supervisor Teacher Induction, Duval County Public Schools.
14.W.C. Gentry, Duval County School Board and Business Leader
15.Karen Hanson, Supervisor, Community and Family Engagement, Duval County Public Schools
16.Preston Haskell, Chairman, The Haskell Company
17.Deborah Gianoulis Heald, Save Duval Schools
18.Charles H. Hood, Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Rayonier (Strategic partner)
19.Melissa Kicklighter, President DCCPTA
20.Barbara Langley, President & CEO, Schultz Center for Teaching and Leadership
21.Linda Lanier, President, Jacksonville Children’s Commission and Incoming Chair Florida Children’s Services Council
22.Wally Lee, President, Chamber of Commerce
23.Sherry Magill, President, Jessie Ball duPont Fund
24.Susan Main, Executive Director, Early Learning Coalition
25.Jim Milligan, Chief Financial Officer, Swyft Technology
26.Leon Mungin, Teacher, N.B. Forrest High School
27.Aron Muse, Director of School Based Staffing, Duval County Public Schools
28.Melanie Patz, Lead Staff, United Way of Northeast Florida
29.Roslyn Phillips, Chief Community Officer, City of Jacksonville
30.David Sillick, President and Publisher, Jacksonville Business Journal
31.Richard Spruill, Music Teacher, Chaffee Trail Elementary School
32.Jeff Stiles, Customer Response Director, State Farm
33.Dr. Crystal Timmons, UF/Duval Professor, Lastinger Center for Learning University of Florida.
34.Nina Waters, President, The Community Foundation
35.Mike Weinstein, State Representative
36.Chris White, Coordinator, Lastinger Center for Learning University of Florida.
37.Tina Wirth, Director, Chamber of Commerce
38.Colleen Wood, Executive Director, Save Duval Schools
39.Paula Wright, School Board Member

The Northeast Florida coalition on education wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars on teacher evaluation study.

Going through their recommendations one by one:

– Allow mentors more time during the day to work with new teachers.
I like this idea but are we now going to have our best teachers out of their classes? Who is going to teach their classes?

-Offer substantive incentives, compensation, rewards or recognition to improve the quality and pool of effective mentors.

– Seek local and national foundation funding to recruit and train more mentors.

Here is the thing about mentors, the current merit pay system disincentivises teachers and mentors from helping each other. Why would I want to help another teacher and share my secrets if it is going to cost me money, furthermore I have to spend all my time on my classes to make sure I keep my job.

– Use a consistent evaluation tool and ensure all principals and other administrators performing teacher evaluations undergo extensive training.

– Hire teachers by May to get the most effective ones.

– Seek opportunities to pay highly effective teachers more money and give them more autonomy.

Teachers aren’t bankers, and study after study says merit pay doesn’t work. Now more autonomy is something most teachers could get behind.

– Base 30 percent of the teacher evaluation on multiple unscheduled classroom observations, 10 percent on student feedback and 10 percent on teacher initiative in professional development. The remaining 50 percent is governed by state mandates.

Having kids evaluate teachers is ridiculous, likewise is basing evaluations on professional development, teachers may not need it or relative ones might not be available, plus prof dev here in the county is spotty at best.

– Advocate that Florida lawmakers revise the statute governing notification to teachers who won’t have their contracts renewed, from March to May.

You know who doesn’t get reappointed? It’s not always the “bad” teachers it is just as often the teachers that the principal for whatever reason doesn’t like.

– The process for getting rid of ineffective teachers should be completed within 180 days or less.

Nobody wants ineffective teachers in the classroom but teachers should be supported and given the chance to improve before being let go.