What is Duval County hiding about discipline?

From the Tampa Times, by Michael La Forgia

On his way to becoming superintendent of Florida’s sixth largest school system, Nikolai Vitti specialized in turning around some of the worst-performing schools in the state.
A job like that requires attention to detail and a good grasp of how things like race and poverty can affect how students get an education. And it would have taught Vitti that inequities in how discipline is handed out can be one major barrier to learning in low-performing schools.
School discipline often has been a hot topic, with stories like this one in the Washington Post periodically focusing attention on the issue.
The Times is interested in how schools handle discipline, too. As part of a still-ongoing, statewide study of how districts are faring on this front, the newspaper in March asked for basic data from the state’s largest districts, including a breakdown of how many students were suspended in the past 15 years and whether they were black, white, Hispanic or some other race.
Most of Florida’s largest districts keep this information at the ready, and they’re able to consult it to make decisions and gauge how effective their policies are. Not Duval County.
There, neither Vitti nor any other administrator nor any member of the school board ever has requested a look at these numbers in the past decade, according to Assistant Superintendent Andrew Post. What’s more, he said, an “antiquated” records system makes it impossible to pull this and other basic information without expending a monumental amount of time and energy.
How monumental?
It would take a top-paid district employee more than 80 hours over five weeks to fulfill the Times‘ public records request, and it would cost about $3,000, he said.
In a conference call, a Times reporter noted that other districts had quickly provided the same information at no charge.
Though Duval officials declined to discuss their student information system, Genesis, other than to call it antiquated and to say that it’s being replaced, most systems of its type are designed to allow information to be extracted easily. The Times asked the district to consult one of its computer experts, who could determine whether the IT department could pull out the information more easily. The district refused.
“We have provided you with an estimate of the time and cost related to producing the information you have requested,” spokeswoman Tia Ford wrote in an email on Friday afternoon. “Thus, we are not inclined to provide any additional information beyond the fact that queries will be made in order to retrieve the information requested.”
Duval County might not gather and scrutinize discipline data on a regular basis, but the Florida Department of Education does. Examining these records last week, the Timesfound that Duval’s rate of giving black students in-school suspensions was the highest of the state’s large urban districts in the 2011-12 school year. In fact, Duval County schools handed in-school suspensions to about 19 percent of its black students that year — almost double the average rate of suspensions among the state’s other big districts.
Regularly gathering and analyzing the district’s own data can be fuel for good decision-making, said Mike Casserly, head of the Council of Great City Schools, a nationwide coalition of large urban public school systems. If a school system isn’t analyzing its own data, Casserly said, then it’s missing out on opportunities to get better.
In a voicemail left for a Times reporter, Vitti described his district as “very data-driven” but held back by its record-keeping software.  “I’m always talking about data and the achievement gap, and using data to talk about where we are in Duval and what we need to do differently,” Vitti said. “Our dilemma is that our data systems are archaic.”
The system might be old, but it’s still a database — and a user with the right skills should be able to pull the data in question with relative ease. The Times tried to reach Vitti again to make this point but was unsuccessful. If we get in touch, we’ll post an update then.
Are we being obtuse or incompetent here?

Duval County, you so crazy

I was a reader growing up. I loved King, Tolkien and Howard
among others. As an adult I have often wondered what would have happened had I
been forced to take an extra hour of reading as the state wants to do with 300
schools and the county with 50. I might have felt like it was a punishment and
it might have impacted my love for reading.
I have very mixed feelings about the extra hour being
required. It’s probably great for families that need it and want it but
probably the opposite for those that don’t.
Last night the district announced that the families at
Holiday Hill will be able to opt out which begs two questions, why wasn’t an
opt out option available from the beginning not just at all Holiday Hills but
all the schools and this is where the district wanted to draw the line with
It wanted to make parents send their kids to an extra hour
of reading, which is weird because sending kids to school on time and
regularly, having them provide the basics and being involved with their kids
academics up to now had been optional for way to many of our parents. Who cares
about all that and so much more but they had damn better send their kids for an
extra hour of reading.
Oy vey.
The same people that manage with a straight face to say
parents know best with their kid’s education options, so they can justify
vouchers and charters, are often the same people that point out that all to
many parents have abdicated their responsibilities.

To read more click the link: http://www.firstcoastnews.com/story/news/education/2014/07/29/vitti-holiday-hill-elementary-extended-hours/13345365/

The cost of Florida handicapping the teacher profession is 130 million a year.

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Leslie Postal
Florida may lose more than $130 million a year because so many teachers leave the profession or at least move to new schools, according to a new national study. The nation likely loses more than $2 billion a year because of teacher attrition, the study found, a problem that most hurts schools in low-income neighborhoods.

The study, released by the Alliance for Excellent Education, says “the very culture of how teachers are supported must change,” if states and school districts want to stop having to hire and train so many new instructors.
That instructional churn not only cost money, but it frequently means the neediest students — who often attend “hard-to-staff” schools — end up with the least experienced and skilled teachers, the study says.
Nationally, about 13 percent of teachers move or leave the profession each year.
In Florida, the rate has been higher in recent years, state data shows, with 15 percent or more of new teachers leaving. And if they don’t leave after their first year, they leave soon after. About  40 percent of new teachers have left the classroom five years after they began their teaching careers, a report by the Florida Department of Education shows. About half have left by 10th year.
The new study says more comprehensive “induction programs” are needed so that teachers in even the most-challenging schools feel supported professionally. Such induction programs include “high-quality mentoring, common planning time, and on-going support from school leaders.”
Such programs have reduced by half the turnover of new teachers, it notes.

What research is Vitti looking at? Is he making it up as he goes along?

Do you ever feel like Vitti is like a really smart tenth grader just making things up that sound good? 

“Research indicates this, that the number one factor that influences student achievement — meaning students doing well academically — is teacher quality,” Vitti said.    

Not so fast.

It’s true that every child deserves an excellent teacher. Yet, Goldhaber and colleagues have discovered that around 9 percent of variation in student achievement is due to teacher characteristics. About 60 percent of variation is explainable by individual student characteristics, family characteristics, and such variables. All school input combined (teacher quality, class variables, etc.) account for approximately 21 percent of student outcomes.


So called experts say all the time, teacher quality is the number one “in school factor” determining how students do, to which I respond, duh! But the truth is there are much bigger factors out there, poverty anyone? Furthermore  the evidence says merit pay reflects the quality and motivation of the student and not the quality and motivation of the teacher.

I maintain that moving these teachers that have had success at schools with different issues, which I think is a good idea if measures are put in place to assist them, will have no effect unless we put in behavioral and academic supports and as of yet I haven’t heard about any of those things. I also maintain that if proper academic and behavioral supports were in place then we wouldn’t need to spend millions on transfers but could spend that money instead where it would truly do some good like on guidance counselors, mental health counselors and social workers because often why children act up or do poorly in school has nothing to do with school and on more teachers so we could have smaller classes the one reform with evidence that actually says it works.  

If it sounds like I am frustrated it’s because I am. We could really turn things around here in Duval and reach our potential but instead of doing what we should be doing, what the evidence and research says, we’re trying pie in the sky solutions based on the guts of wealthy donors and a super either to weak or to uninformed to insist we do things the right way.

Does anybody else feel like Duval is making up as it goes along?

The open enrollment suggestion came and burned out quickly
but not before throwing the entire community into upheaval. Then there is the
constant turnover of senior staff with dubious or often zero reasons given,
like the Simac-Davis switch that leaves ESE without a director, so soon after a
major investigation into the department. Throw in the half hearted attempts at
discipline and making sure kids have electives and the QEA initiatives which I
don’t think are all supported by data but which also led to the greatest amount
of surpluses in Duval history and I can’t help but feel we’re making things up
as we go along either that or we’re doing to much at one time.
Read these passages from a recent WJCT article about the
The QEA funds are housed at local nonprofit the Community
Foundation for Northeast Florida. In general, education policy research
nonprofit Jacksonville Public Education Fund serves as the grant-writing arm
for the funds.  
But Tuesday, Couch and other board members questioned who would
administer the incentive program funds to teachers and who would collect on
them if teachers or principals failed to keep their end of the bargain.
“Who collects the funding if the teacher resigns early,” School
Board Chairwoman Becki Couch asked. “Who is now the collection agent? Would it
be the district or would it be the district or would it be the Community
Vitti said the district would collect the money, but he said the
details on how that would happen still needed to be worked out.
“We can work with (Community Foundation) to create a structure
on how to do that,” he said.
Also of concern to board members was whether or not the
incentive pay would count toward teachers’ retirement benefits.
Sonita Young, the district’s chief human resources officer, said
the money would not count towards retirement. Originally, the district expected
that it would, she said.
“We did desire that it would, but when we looked at the IRS
language, we discovered that it could not be,” she said.
That came as a surprise to Duval Teachers United union President
Terrie Brady. Brady said the union was under the impression that the extra
money would count toward the employee benefits when it entered into an agreement
with the district to implement the program. The memorandum of understanding was
also never revised to reflect the change, Brady said.
School Board member Ashley Smith-Juarez questioned whether any
fees would be attached to the administration of the funds.
“Has any type of administrative fee been discussed along with
that? I know JPEF charges a 6 percent administrative fee for anything that is
passed through,” she said.
When asked about the fee Smith-Juarez was referring to, JPEF
President Trey Csar said the group does not charge any fees for writing grants
tied to the QEA funds due to a previous agreement entered between JPEF and the
Community Foundation.
Csar said that a contract between JPEF and the district
specifying how money for the performance incentives program would be
administered has not been finalized yet.
“Everything is preliminary at this point,” he said.
Couch said she was concerned with the lack of oversight the
school board has had on the matter, so far.
“I think the board is certainly appreciative of the stepping out
of the box that the superintendent has done with creating this initiative and
working with partners,” she said.  “There’s a lot of oversight that the
board needs clarity on with payment schedules and the money flowing into the
district because that does fall under the purview of the school board.”

The point of Tuesday’s questions was to raise those concerns ahead of time.

“We’re asking them now before the school year starts,” she said.
Yeah just a few weeks before the school year starts and lets
be honest we don’t have flawless openings here in Duval, even before all these
changes, transfers and class changes are more the rule than the exception at a
lot of schools even weeks into the new year.
Wanting to do a lot is admirable, we need a lot of stuff to
be done but to be honest I wish we slowed down and made sure we did some stuff
right before heading to the next big thing. 

Throwing money at the probem.

I saw an Internet meme, which asked the question, why is
giving more money to public schools “throwing money” at the problem, but giving
more money to charter schools and private schools “investing” in the future.
There are undoubtedly problems in public education but most
of them have been created by starving schools of resources, attacking and
marginalizing our teachers and by ignoring poverty. Getting rid of work
protections for teachers and doubling down on the expensive and untested Common
Core is not going to fix poverty my friends. Florida has in effect handicapped
our public schools, ignored societies problems and then blamed our schools and
teachers for not being able to fix those problems.

The solution should not be to outsource our children’s education
to institutions that care more about the bottom line, charter schools or that
resist accountability, private schools that take vouchers. The solution should
be to address and fix our problems, many of which were created by individuals
and politicians who now seek to privatize our schools and profit off our

Charter Schools USA proves its all about the CASH!

Bob Sykes from Scathing Purple Musings did some reporting about my old friends at CUSA which flies in the face about their assertions that their schools always improve and hey it’s the children they really care about and gosh I hope they don’t threaten to sue me again.

Florida Law Firm Requests More Cash From Indiana for Florida-Based Charter Schools USA

Charter Schools USA executive Sherry Hage boasted last month about “opening schools in areas of highest need,” but all isn’t going so well in three Indiana schools she and her husband took over in 2012. From reporters Eric Weddle and Scott Elliott in theIndianapolis Star:
The four takeover schools in Indianapolis lost huge numbers of students — between 35 and 60 percent at each school — between the start of classes in 2011 and when the takeover operators took over in 2012. Schools are mostly funded on the basis of their enrollment, so the departures came at a steep cost for the private operators.
On top of that, the takeover schools saw their share of a pot of federal funds for low-performing schools that is controlled by the state shrink as more state schools became eligible to claim that money. Tindley lost $212,000, and Charter Schools USA’s three schools lost more than $601,110 because of across-the-board reductions.
Together, the cuts have left takeover operators with much higher costs than they anticipated.
Sherry Hage, CSUSA’s chief academic officer, says the operator is planning to stick with its schools despite the costs
This hasn’t stopped the Hage’s from asking Indiana taxpayers for more money and do so last month via a letter from its, get this, Florida law firm, Tripp Scott of Fort Lauderdale. On June 4, senior partner Edward J. Pozzuoli wrote to Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz on the Hage’s behalf:
The undersigned represents the Turnaround School Operator, Charter Schools USA. We write on behalf of the students of Emma Donnan Middle School (Donnan}, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School (Howe}, and Emmerich Manual High School (Manual). On behalf of our students and because of our commitment to them, we feel duty bound to express our grave concerns with the pending recommendation to the State Board of Education that significantly reduces School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding to Donnan, Howe and Manual (collectively he “Turnaround Schools” ) over the next two years.
There’s something creepy about and out-of-state law firm lobbying another state’s elected official, isn’t there? At any rate, the Hage’s Charter School USA adventure into Indiana hasn’t gone well from the start.
The three schools received an “F” in their first year of operation,  prompting Sherry Hage to outrageously claim that “while we may have received an ‘F,’ our schools are most definitely not failing any longer.” Moreover, a December 2012 story reported that the Hage’s received $6 million more than they should have from then Superintendent of Public Education Tony Bennett. Just six month after the Hage’s deal with Bennett for Charter Schools USA was revealed to have no profit limits nor minimum classroom expenditure levels, Red Apple Development, the real estate development arm of Charter Schools USAdonated $5000 to Bennett’s campaign.

Charter Schools USA Nets $2.9 Million Haul For Two Louisiana Schools

Small wonder the wife of Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage was touting their test scores in an Orlando Sentinel opinion piece last month. Sherry Hage and her husband take in a lot of taxpayer money to run schools. Consider this story from Marsha Sills inThe Advocate
LAFAYETTE — Two new charter schools opening on opposite sides of Lafayette Parish in two weeks together will pay nearly $1.2 million to their management company, Charter Schools USA, and more than $1.7 million in rent to a sister company for the new school buildings and the land they sit on.
As with most of CSUSA’s facilities, lines between controlling entities are, at best,  blurry. Sills indicates that both “sites eventually will be purchased by Charter Schools USA’s sister company, Red Apple Development” and will “become the schools’ landlord.” It’s also clear that the board foundations which oversee each school are CSUSA controlled entities as well. The Lafayette Charter Foundation utilizes CSUSA’s sales pitch format in its web site.

My random thoughts on the Davis promotion

you should know I had a judgment from the state against me and I was on five
years of probation. Two things, I really think I got hammered compared to other
judgments I have seen and where I didn’t think it was fair after two years of
wrangling with the state I just gave up and agreed. So when Davis says he just
went along, I can see it, though at the same time, people go to jail and are
forced to register as sex offenders for doing what he was accused of. I may
have fought that a little harder
Vitti points to his promotions as evidence that he did nothing wrong it makes
me laugh a little. This is Florida and Jacksonville in particular, often
promotions have nothing to do with ability and everything to do with whom you
the end of the day it’s Vitti on the line and not Davis. He obviously wanted
somebody he likes and feels he can trust and Davis fits that bill. I still
think many of his appointments are random and many don’t make sense but I guess
that’s his bosses prerogative but think about this, if people were still
infatuated with Vitti, then nobody would care about this transfer.

Vitti’s wearing thin with a
lot of people. I thought Pratt-Dannals was terrible as super, though I hear he
was a great guy at a party, and one of the reasons he lasted so long was he
flew under the radar. Vitti on the other hand is out there constantly and
usually at the center of a controversy. Maybe that’s a byproduct of so much
being needed to be done but maybe it’s a byproduct of him not having a handle
on how to do things. The fact his quotes in the media often deflect blame from
himself and dump on teachers and principals probably doesn’t help either.

Teachers who vote for Rick Scott vote against their and their students interests.

From the Palm Beach Post

The latest Rick Scott television ad about his fondness for education and teachers surely is enough to motivate anyone who cares about children to act. This most recent commercial purports to have “teachers” praise some type of educational funding increase fantasy. Can they really be serious? Are they really teachers, or paid spokespersons?

There are two main reasons that people vote against their own best interests. Ignorance is the most common. People have not taken the time to thoroughly investigate the issue, or do not currently have the ability to fully understand the consequences or ramifications of complex problems. Education can cure both of these situations.
The other reason that people do not act in their own interest is poor self-esteem. Unfortunately, selling out for the proverbial 15 minutes of fame can be harmful to others. Who are these women praising the increase in state education dollars? Why are they using only their first names? Not only are they incapable of simple math, their faulty logic could be taught in our classrooms. That is, if they are even classroom teachers in Florida.
His first year in office, Gov. Rick Scott cut $1.3 billion (that’s “billion” with a “B”) from the state education budget. He also eliminated teacher tenure, implemented confusing and arbitrary merit pay that evaluates teachers on the performance of students they have never met, and imposed a 3 percent perpetual pay cut on teachers.
Florida remains in the bottom 10 states for per-pupil spending. Returning a billion dollars after removing a third more than that is not an increase in spending. We are still below the adjusted spending from the first year of the Crist administration. This year’s cutback in Bright Futures scholarship money is, of course, not even mentioned in this latest TV fairy tale.
In related actions, Scott decimated the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) that was an attractive option for teachers approaching retirement age. He is still trying to eliminate the entire Florida Retirement System for public employees, and force dedicated state and local government workers into risky investment fund options.
I do have empathy, however, for these women who will forever be linked to the Scott propaganda wagon. Maybe someday they can recoup their $10,000 (and climbing) pay cut and buy some legitimate television time, or a magazine advertisement that their family can point to with pride. In the interim, there is always Facebook, or Twitter or Instagram and myriad other social media sites available if you have a burning desire to embarrass yourself. Please, though, have mercy on our profession and don’t call yourselves teachers.

Vitti’s rotating of admins wastes money and doesn’t make a difference.

From a reader

In my 8 years in Duval, it never seems to matter who takes the “top” positions. They could put my cat in the position, and students would perform how they would with or without the cat. They don’t care who is in charge. These obsolete positions are useless and a waste of millions of dollars. They will never solve the real problems, and if Vitti were smart, he would eliminate them. He should talk to the principals himself, or better yet, he should just let principals freedom to enact change within their schools without so much insignificant oversight. 

All of the “changes” he is making will not mitigate the issues many of our children face. Until he understands that the real issues are not school-based, he will continue to make decisions that mean nothing. Make some good changes.

1. Limit class size for the most struggling schools.
2. Allow teachers to be leaders in their own schools, not merely peons of the system.
3. Provide more counselors for the most struggling schools; most of our kids want an academic future, but they and their parents don’t know the process. We have 4 counselors for 1800 students. That is 450 per counselor, which is insane!
4. Put a social worker and a psychologist in EACH struggling school.
5. Have a graduation coach for each grade level, not just 12th.
6. Revert 8 classes every other day to 4 per semester.
7. Encourage students to participate in after school clubs and provide some supplements for sponsorships.
8. Require every parent to complete OnCourse training, so they can help their children.
9. Take away ISSP and implement detention after school. We have after school buses; we may as well get our money’s worth.
10. Provide more, not less security. 
11. Eliminate academic coaches and allow experienced teachers to have a planning period off to provide support to those teachers. It would be a fraction of the cost of an academic coach.
12. Eliminate ALL intensive reading classes, and allow ELA teachers to teach double-blocked classes, so ALL students have more time to practice their literacy skills.

Trust me, I have more, and guess what? They don’t involve useless people who walk around as if they are actually doing something for students in some abstract way