Why would the state want to classify more schools as failing? So they can privatize them is why.

John Padgett the vice-chair of the State Board of Education
is pushing for tougher grading rules which would ultimately label more schools
as failing. Since this failing designation does not trigger more help or more
resources it makes me wonder why.
The obvious reason is privatization. Padgett and his ilk
would rather replace our public schools with charter schools and more schools
that take vouchers and that should concern us all, greatly.
Schools that take money for vouchers are some of the least
regulated schools in the nation. They don’t have to have certified teachers, recognized
curriculums, have any reasonable education accountability measures and the vast
majority do not even have to report how they money they take is spent.  
Compared to charter schools however they are a success. Over
three hundred charter schools have open taken public money and closed wasting
tens of millions of dollars. The Stanford Credo says that as a group they don’t
do as well as our public schools and most are run by for profit management
companies who are more concerned with making money than educating our children.
But for some reason Padgett and much of Tallahassee think
these are better options.
Then think about what having more failing schools will do to
house values or the ability to attract new businesses. Somebody should be
anyways as Tallassee in their zeal to privatize our schools obviously isn’t.

Shouldn’t we have people on the state board and in our
legislature that want to improve our public schools instead of like Padgett who
constantly want to injure them?

The Times Union’s silence about teacher’s working conditions is deafening (rough draft)

Teachers are afraid in this town, afraid that if they
speak up about their working conditions their safety or a curriculum that they believe
is completely inappropriate for their students then they will face consequences
for their actions.

As the chief contributor to the blog Education Matters
I talk to teachers quite frequently about what is happening and the two things
they have in common is that they believe as a district superintendent 

Vitti is
taking us in the wrong direction and they are afraid to go on the record about
it.

We have all heard the saying is I have heard it once I
have heard it a thousand times, well in Jacksonville that is no exaggeration,
teachers fear for their jobs if they speak up and the Times Union knows it too.
They however refuse to report on it.

Now they allude to it here and there when talking
about other topics.

From a story about a bill that would mandate recess.
Teachers in Duval County said recently in private that
they feel pressure to stay on task, even when they can tell their kids are
squirming.
From an article on teaching religion to first graders
Several teachers, who spoke on condition of anonymity,
said students aren’t engaged in the subject matter, and because teachers are
reading from a script and students don’t have books to follow along, they’re
even less likely to comprehend and remember what they’re learning.
“It is tedious, repetitive and
created without readers in mind,” one teacher said. “Engage NY lacks a
connection to what will motivate students.”
Teachers say they’re being
discouraged from slowing down lessons and from using other books.
These two examples are just from the last month. I could
have easily found a dozen more mentions.
This is also a conversation I have had several times with
the Times Union’s main two education reporters, Rhema Thompson and Denise Amos
Smith. I have to say I think they are doing a better job than what we have had
in the past but I don’t see how they can continue to ignore the story that so
many teachers go to work afraid that they will lose their jobs or be messed
with if they speak up and do the right thing.
We are not going to reach our
potential as a district as long as we marginalize and intimidate teachers. We
are not going to reach our potential as long as we ignore teachers concerns and
we are not going to reach our potential as long as the district contuse to make
the job of teaching so unappealing people either leave in droves or do their
job out of fear not out of joy.   

The Times Union sadly knows that
teachers are afraid yet they refuse to report on it which makes them culpable
with the problems we are having. Their job should not be to cover for the district
and sell its all is well narrative.
Let me ask you a question would you be effective at your job if you were concerned about your safety, or believed you were doing harm, or if you spoke up you would be punished? 

Does superintendent Vitti really care about play? My bet is probably not.

I am just going to get right to it.
Not just experts but most people realize that play is
important for children.  
Despite setting up a system that practically eliminates the possibility
of kids going out to play, the super says, but hey I wrote a memo saying
teachers could take their students out.
The problem is these teachers are on such tight time
constraints to do everything the district mandates that they are unable to take
their kids out because they would risk falling behind and that has
consequences.  
The superintendent is attempting to have his cake and eat it
too and it’s wrong.
There is a bill moving through the Floirda legislature which
would require kids to play and I have to say I think it is a great idea. We can’t
leave our kids fates up to superintendents who think it is more important to
kill and drill our kids rather than letting them be kids.

I think recess will actually lead to improved test scores
because kids who hate school don’t do as well and that is what we are creating
a generation of kids who hate school. We must bring the joy of learning back to
our classrooms.  

Teacher asks, what kind of public education do we want here in Jacksonville?

From a reader

As a fourth grade ELA teacher there is only one question I would like to ask DCPS administrators, teachers, and parents…Do you believe Duval Reads is building strong readers and writers?

The answer would be NO. In fact, I can quote page 253 of our 2nd quarter curriculum guide that states, “Reassure them [students] that it is okay if they do not fully understand the text…” This is a precise example of the fact that this curriculum is merely designed to teach kids how to navigate a high stakes test. In no way is this curriculum building the literacy skills that our elementary students require to truly be college and career ready.

I am often reminded of a quote by Neil Postman, “Public education does not serve a public. It creates a public.” As a community, we need to ask ourselves what type of public do we want to create here in Jacksonville. 

PS: What happened to social studies? In the future, if we wonder why our population has no sense of civic duties we should absolutely look back at the point where social studies disappeared from public education.

Important questions the media should be asking about the new curriculm

From a reader:

SOMEONE still needs to ask VITTI:
1. Why are we using a curriculum that the original writers have “kicked to the curb?”

3. IS ANYONE else in the country using this curriculum?  I would be interested to know, and if so, how are their teachers adjusting it, or are they doing what we are expected to do, teach it word for word on the day the “higher ups” decide is the day to teach it.

4.  Average teachers????? What does that mean ? Why would he have “average teachers” working in Duval County? This article demonstrates his lack of confidence in the teachers working in the district.  If that is the case, what professional development has he offered beyond Teachers Academy in the summer?  We no longer have The Schultz Center to provided what is NEEDED-Vitti got rid of it.

5. The Common Core Standards DO NOT determine what is taught.  If Vitti is alluding to a perception that the 1st grade content taught through Duval Reads is part of the Common Core Standards (we actually use Florida Standards)  then he doesn’t know what is in the standards.

First graders need to learn about the world around them, their family, their school , their community.  This is COMMON KNOWLEDGE AMONG EDUCATORS and why this curriculum is developmentally inappropriate. An expert on the Ammendments is not an expert on what  is appropriate for first graders to learn.  Why didn’t you talk to someone who writes curriculum for 1st grade?

Did you know in third grade the books used with Duval Reads were so questionable that parents could opt out? WHY WOULD YOU EVER use books/content that could even be questioned with our youngest students?  

I am begging you to help us and our students. No grade, using Duval Reads is exempt from the disaster that looms ahead.  I am so concerned about my third graders failing the reading test because of this curriculum.  And, most will fail third grade if they do not pass the test.  It will not end this year as these 1st and 2nd graders will Not be prepared for testing in the coming years if we continue using this curriculum.

By the way, what curriculum do the highest performing districts use? I AM SURE IT IS NOT THIS ONE!

Superintendent Vitti can’t help but demean teachers

A few weeks ago, the superintendent was saying look at
our NEAP scores, what we are doing isn’t just working it is working spectacularly.
Forget for a moment that Duval replaced what we were doing with Engage NY the
much maligned curriculum and it was teachers not him that was doing it. 

He
would like you to anyways.

Yesterday when talking about Duval’s new reading
curriculum the superintendent said the following about teachers and the
curriculum:

“My role is to pick a
curriculum that can meet the standards for what needs to be taught,” Vitti
said. “I could have picked a lower level curriculum and the average teacher
does not have the skill, the time or the resources to fill in the gaps. Then
we’re rolling the dice to see [if] the child gets it or not.”

The first thing that caught my eye was we said that it
was his role to pick the curriculum. I want to remind you that he has no
expertise in this area having only been a teacher for a cup of coffee and he
routinely says it was teachers that picked the new curriculum though I have
been able to find none that said, yeah this is what we wanted.

Then he talks about the average teacher not being to
fill in the gaps, they just don’t have the skills and there you have it. In his opinion our
schools are filled with nothing but average teachers lacking the skills to properly teach our children.

Now he is right most teachers don’t have the time nor the
resources they need but is that really their fault? Shouldn’t the super take
the lion’s share of blame for that one?

How does the super not realize when he talks like this
about the staff, he undermines both them and the communities confidence in our
schools. Thinking it would be both inaccurate and bad enough but he tales every opportunity
he can to disparage the city’s teachers.

Teacher: we’re setting our kids up to fail.

From a reader

I read on a local education blog that you were looking to talk to someone about the current Duval Reads program that DCPS has been using this year. I currently teach ELA in fourth grade at an A school. I would love to offer my opinion on the matter. So long as my name is left out of anything that would make its way back to the District. They don’t take kind to criticism. In fact, you could write an entire piece on how Vitti and his underlings intimidate teachers and administrators into silent submission.

As for the curriculum, I’m currently teaching nine weeks of simple machines. Levers, pulleys, wheel and axles, etc. Though, I wouldn’t necessarily call it teaching. I read from a script. My script, like the assessments and workbook pages, is riddled with mistakes and errors. There was no attempt to correct them by the District. The script is quite lengthy and takes a lot of time to complete. In fact, Holli Fears, who is in charge of ELA in 3-5, announced at the Teacher Academy over the summer that she used every last minute of our daily schedule. We did the math. To do everything the District wants us to do, it would take just over five hours. However, we’re only given about four hours a day of instruction time. They didn’t even factor in bathroom breaks!

The lessons themselves are very thin and completely lacking any sort of rigor or point. It’s just a bunch of inane busy work that does nothing to foster any sort of learning. In this module, we are required to do science experiments during our reading class. The experiments are a joke. They try to justify this by saying that students have to read the directions to figure out what to do. In reality, it has nothing to do with reading at all! This is on top of our daily science lesson. The lessons make a lot of assumptions about our students as well. Most of my students walked into my classroom about a year and a half behind in reading. They need a lot of specific instruction that I’m only allowed to deliver to no more than seven students at a time during our center rotation. (More on that in a minute.) The lessons mostly consist of partner talk and filling in graphic organizers. It constantly asks the students to self-assess themselves. They can’t do that! These kids weren’t even taught how to capitalize or use punctuation. How can they honestly determine why they are or are not meeting the learning target?

Our centers are a joke too. I was told that I needed to have a differentiated activity for each small group of students to last an entire hour every single day. I have thirty-six students. That means I need to be looking at data and creating about eight different hour-long lessons a day for 180 days. The actual lesson in our script/manual takes about two hours to prepare. It is not humanly possible for one person to keep up with the demands the District placed on us for our center groups. Never mind the fact that we don’t have the time in our day for them as reading often runs over. This is the only time that we are allowed to actually teach our way. Sadly, the District put such limitations and restrictions on it that centers are almost useless.

Furthermore, DCPS is all about Blended Learning. We use two programs specifically at the elementary lessons.The first is i-Ready. In fourth grade and above i-Ready is used only for math, except for our enrichment students. These students scored very low on a diagnostic test. However, we are not allowed to use i-Ready Reading during school hours. We can only use math. (Math on i-Ready is taught vastly different in class, which is already very different from how it will be on the FSA. Makes total sense.) The other program we are required to use is Achieve3000. Achieve takes old AP news articles and rewrites them on numerous Lexile levels. The students receive that article that is on their level and have to answer questions about it. We are required to have the students complete two articles at 75% or better each week. That doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that very few of our classroom computers work. We have asked the District repeatedly to fix them. They respond by telling us that our computers are too old and won’t be repaired. Yet, they won’t give us new ones. This does not factor into thought process when they review the Blended Learning usage. We’ve been yelled by our principal who had been yelled at by some higher up because we were too low.

Our biggest concern right now is writing. We have the big FSA writing test in February. So far, Duval Reads includes a thirty minute writing lesson a day. These writing lessons include free writes, which are not on the FSA, narrative writing, which is not on the FSA, and opinion writing essays using informational text. Seriously, one lesson asked students to give their opinion about St. Augustine’s history. I was also asked to use poetry to teach how to end a paragraph. Nothing I’ve taught from my manual has done anything to prepare my students for the writing test. Our scores from across the district will tank this year.

Another big problem we’re having is the complete chaos in the ELA department. Holli Fears is completely incompetent and very nasty to those who seem to challenge her. Nothing is getting done in a timely manner and everything is just thrown together without any real thought. We didn’t know that we would be spending a solid five days of testing until the day before we started. That number has grown to ten with the amount of ESE testing and make-ups. We didn’t even find out there was a writing test until after we completed all the other tests. The materials for our lessons consistently arrive late. We aren’t provided the supplies required by our contracts. I spent two weeks printing our thirty pages of lessons a day using copy paper I bought myself because no one bothered to get me a manual.The list goes on and on! Yet, the specialists and other “support” personnel come in and point the finger at us.



Overall, my kids are completely defeated. They’ve been given work that is way too hard and completely pointless. They are tired of failing and have started giving up. Every single day, I leave work three hours after I stop getting paid, feeling like a worthless teacher. I don’t want to teach anymore. Vitti has completely sucked all the joy and fun out of my job. This county will never reach our full potential with that lecherous man as our leader. His personal failings and scandals should have long disqualified him for the job. It hasn’t. His professional failings and scandals should have been the end of his career. Yet, here he is, still causing damage to our children that will take years to fix. Even Joseph Wise wasn’t this bad.

Why should local teachers talk to the media? (rough draft)

I talk to teachers all the time, I would say at least a dozen a week. We talk about the curriculum, discipline, working conditions and a whole host of other issues. Most are frustrated with the direction that the district is heading but even more are afraid.


They are afraid if they to speak negative consequences will accompany their actions. They wont be reappointed, they will be put on a growth plan or they will just be messed with and I get it too.


Let me tell you about my last year at Ed White. I had two sections of VE science, a regular education research class and co-taught one earth space science class and two biology classes. My first period class was in Mod 3, a cluster of classes on one side of the school and my second period class was in Houston Hall an auditorium on the other side, though I also taught this class in the music room, a small classroom that sat 20 that my 30 kids would squeeze into and the library. One of my kids asked me why the admin hated me so much to move us around so much and I told him it was actually him they hated and he was the reason we were moving.   


After my trek across campus I would return to the room I was in first period for my third period class. 


The second half of the day were my co-teach classes but since I had my own preps and didn’t have common planning with any of the teachers I would often learn what was being taught at the same time the kids did when I arrived. It was miserable.


Furthermore after five years at Ed White I had accumulated stuff, you know like teachers do, the four previous years I had my own room but now I had no place to put it. So I stored it in an abandoned office where I would also do my planning until I showed up one day and it was all gone, either thrown out or given away. I managed to get some of it back but it was very disappointing that my personal property had been so disrespected.


Though the most disappointing thing was when one day I returned home and my roommate called me to tell me about my dog, It was surreal I didn’t understand what he was saying, something had happened to him, what, I said, whats going on. 


It turned out he had found my guy who was old and he had collapsed. He said he called me over and over at school and left several messages none of which I got and after a couple hours my dog died, without me. Just a dog right but he had been part of my family for 14 years he deserved to have me with him at the end.


That was my last year at Ed White as I was surplussed the day before teachers were supposed to report the next and the reason I was given was, “some data on Pearson” data they at the time couldn’t show me.     


Later, months later, I learned that the data came from the 23 ESE kids in the three classes I “co-taught”, something like six had improved, 7 either didn’t or regressed and the other ten didn’t have any data. I pointed out that I had done very little of the actual teaching but at this point I had moved on. 


So I get it when teachers tell me they are afraid and don’t want to talk, the district can be bastarded coated bastards with bastard filling. 


Why tell you all this? It’s because my last year at Ed White was the first year I started this blog. Us doing things the right way however, disciplined classrooms and respected and engaged teaches was more important than anything I personally had to endure, though I still get mad and sad when I think about not being able to be with my dog as he slipped away.


People have to know and I really believe that if they did they would want and demand better.


If only we had a media that was interested in informing them. I always encourage people to go to the media with their concerns and have passed along notes and information and even set up meetings too but I am beginning to think whats the point of doing that.


The Times Union did a piece today on the early grade curriculum that completely missed the point. Instead of talking about how developmentally inappropriate it is and how teachers aren’t given what they need to succeed the reporter wrote mostly about the religion components in the curriculum. I was so incensed I wrote the reporter this note.


This is why I have a hard time getting people to talk to you.


I just read your piece and there were just a couple throw away paragraphs at the end about how teachers felt the curriculum was inappropriate but that was the story you should have told.

Nobody I am talking to thinks the district is trying to indoctrinate first graders towards a particular religion or that the teaching of religion in school is wrong. 

Teachers think whats the point of talking to the media when they just give the district a pass and their voices are ignored and how can I tell them they are wrong?

How can I?  

I really believe that if people knew more they would want and demand better, the thing is we can no longer sit around and wait for the media to do their job because they aren’t interested in doing it and I for one am past sick and tired of them covering for the district. Rome is burning and like Nero the media is just playing the fiddle.

My thoughts on the First Coast High/Sub fiasco

All over social media and the news there has been a video of
an out of control classroom and the pleas of a mother that said this was the rule
not the exception.  
I was asked not to long ago about discipline in our schools
before the arrival of superintendent Vitti and to be honest it wasn’t good then
either. Often referrals went unprocessed and kids then too played the system,
the big difference then was the system was undefined, kids new they could get
away with anything short of order but it wasn’t codified like it is now.
I have been pretty critical of the districts feel good restorative
justice policies and changes to the code of conduct, I believe they both lend
to children’s ability to push the envelope and they have taken an already bad
situation and made it worse.
The fact that this happened at First Coast high school and
the parent says they asked the principal for help only to be ignored is also particularly
frustrating. Principal Al Brennan must know where the bodies are buried as
never have I seen a principal do such damage to a school and keep their job. He
is an embarrassment and represents all that is wrong in the district.
I also find it reprehensible that the district chose to play
off the incident and blame the substitute teacher firing them. So many of these
subs are put in no win positions and told to handle, i.e. endure any problems
that occur.  Many teachers are already hung
out to dry so it is no wonder that students ignore and disrespect these
strangers especially since they aren’t required to listen to or respect the teachers
of record.
Finally people shouldn’t think this is an isolated incident
or just occurs when subs come in, nor should people think it is every school or
every classroom. I maintain that for the most part we are doing a great job. The
problem however is things like what happened in the video happen often enough
that we should be concerned.

Discipline is hard but when the district ignores it, it
becomes worse. I fear we are courting a real tragedy here.

To read more, click the link: http://jacksonville.com/news/schools/2015-12-18/story/parent-upset-over-student-antics-first-coast-high-school-video