Commissioner Stewart jumps the shark

I will just let her words do the talking for her.

“We all know there have been questions
about opt out and that there were situations where this occurred last year.
Section 1008.22, F.S., regarding statewide, standardized assessments, states
clearly that participation is mandatory for all districts and all students
attending public schools.
My belief is that students who do not want to test
should not be sitting in public schools,
as it is mandatory and required for
students seeking a standard high school diploma. Statewide, standardized
assessments are part of [the] requirement to attend school, like immunization
records. That is our message and what we send to you to be shared with your

Pam Stewart is the commissioner of education in
Florida where every republican legislator is bananas over school choice and
says parents know what’s best for their children.

That is…

Unless they want to opt them out of the state’s high stakes

Unless they want them to be able to have daily recess.

Unless they want to send them to a school that is
adequately funded.

And increasingly as the state works around the class
size amendment, unless they want to send them to a school with reasonably sized

If parents want any of those things I guess it is time for them to hit the road. 

I am really starting to believe that the main purpose
of the high stakes test is not to assess children but to chase children out of
our public schools an assertion that Pam Stewart’s own words seem to back up.

Fear and loathing in Duval County

See if any of these things sound familiar.

Many teachers are
afraid to speak up about the real reason their colleagues are leaving Lee
County classrooms in record numbers.  As a veteran high school teacher, I
am painfully aware of how increasingly frustrated teachers are with our jobs.

Orange County school employees are often afraid
to speak or post on social media sites about public education matters, leaders
for the teachers union said Thursday during a press conference at the union’s
office in College Park. 

Sadly it’s not just Jacksonville
where teachers feel afraid.

I get it too. If I was
on a one year contract and could be fired for any or no reason I would be scared
to speak up too. It’s also not much better for veteran teachers with continuing
contracts who can be messed with in many number of ways.

Please don’t think I
don’t feel the pressure either. A school board member in the press recently
called me a liar and boasted that the district was going to put the blog out of
business. A week later I learned I was also under investigation by the Duval
office of professional practices for something I allegedly said on a Facebook
thread a move which I consider to be nothing but harassment.  

All that being said, I truly
believe if more people knew they would want better, heck they would demand
better. They would demand that we had disciplined schools staffed by professional,
respected and valued teachers, we would stop testing kids to death and we would
let kids be kids too. Nothing I or most teachers want is unrealistic or

I want nothing more
than for this district to succeed and reach its potential and there have been
some positive signs recently, the rejection of uniforms and of an expansion of Engage
NY to middle school but that being said we have a long way to go and we’re not
going to get there by being silent.

There is nothing wrong
with being afraid, sometimes I am, but I refuse to be paralyzed by it.

If teachers don’t want the Best and Brightest scholarships, then why is it about to become law?

Best and Brightest
Despite the fact teachers have overwhelmingly come out
against the Best and Brightest scholarships, which awards bonuses based upon
teacher’s SAT scores the legislature keeps pushing it forward and since this is
forty four million dollars of our tax payer money I think we need to ask why.
I believe it has to do with Teach for America. If you didn’t
know, Teach for America takes non education majors, puts them through a six week
access course and then places them in our neediest schools where they are
supposed to serve two years. According to studies about a sixth don’t finish their
commitment and most leave after their two years are up, ensuring an ever
revolving door of novice teachers in our neediest schools. Since as of now first
year teachers are eligible for the bonus, I believe the Best and Brightest scholarships
are nothing more than a recruitment tool to bring more TFA teachers to the
Teach for America is currently only in a few Florida districts
but perhaps the two most important when it comes to education funding, Miami
and Jacksonville. You see Miami representative Eric Fresen is the house member
who introduced the bill, Board of Education member Rebeca Fishman-Lipsey is both
from Miami and a Teach for America alumni, and fellow board member Gary
Chartrand brought Teach for America to Jacksonville.
This means three of the biggest education players in
Tallahassee all with close ties to Teach for America are pushing a bill most teachers
don’t want, and furthermore it is a bill most people don’t even think makes
sense as there is no relationship between effective teaching and SAT scores.

Even if you disagree with my assertion about Teach for America, since teachers are against
the Best and Brightest scholarships, you should ask yourself why is it about to
come a law and isn’t there a better use of forty-four million dollars.

Is a one percent increase in education spending really historic?

The Florida legislature and Rick Scott are touting historic education
spending. Unfortunately what they are proposing amounts a one percent increase.
When people realize the inflation rate in 2015 was 1.4 percent some of the
luster comes off that historic spending. The sad truth is if Florida wanted to
just match the per pupil spending on 2007 instead of adding 52 dollars like the
legislature is proposing they would have to add nearly 900 dollars per pupil.
I would also like to mention that Florida consistently ranks
near the bottom on education spending and this meager one percent increase does
nothing to change that.
It also gets worse when you also consider some of the bills
making their way through the legislature. One would force school districts to
share their local tax revenue with charter schools many of which are both set
up and run by for profit management companies, another limits counties ability
to raise special taxes to support things like education and a third proposes
giving charter schools of which there are 650, ninety million dollars in maintenance
funds and public schools of which there are over 3,000, fifty million in maintenance

Wouldn’t it be nice if Tallahassee’s support for education
matched their rhetoric? It’s time Florida properly funded education.

More proof the Times Union is in the bag for superintendent Vitti. Uniform edition. (rough draft)

First let me say personally I like Denise Amos Smith the
chief education writer for the Times Union and she is heads and shoulders above
what we used to have but come on man, enough is enough.
The first headline read, School Board discussing uniform policy
which is heavily favored by parents.

I don’t think it is a secret that the super really wanted uniforms too.

This teaser piece had no details to support this assertion, nope they came later.
The second piece was titled, Duval tosses uniform plan in a
Okay let me say that was pretty punny but it also means I
don’t have to write the following pieces.
The super tries another gimmick.
Uniforms haven’t helped the following schools in Jax, and
Where’s the beef, I mean data that says uniforms make a
difference, oh wait it doesn’t exist.
So thank you school board for having a rare moment of clarity
and allowing my House of Card’s marathon to proceed relatively uninterrupted.
All that being said let me get to my, the Times Union is in
the bag for the superintendent point.
Here is the heavily supported by parents data.
 By contrast, most of the
6,930 or so adults surveyed said they prefer school uniforms. That includes 54
percent of parents, 57 percent of teachers and 63 percent of the people who
attended PTA and School Advisory Council meetings.
6930, that’s not a small number well that is unless you
compare it to the 250,000 parents and teachers in the district.
Furthermore does 54 percent equal heavily favored? Also did
they use the same techniques to filter out multiple voters that they used on students?

According to the district’s non-scientific polls, 75 percent of
2,070 or so students shot down the idea of an official wardrobe.
“There were some students who went on and voted hundreds of
times in order to rig the results,” said Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.
Staff was able to “clean up” the survey data by counting one
vote per computer device, he said.
Two things, my bet is not and let’s give those students kudos
for all their hard work.
Now maybe I am nitpicking but words have meaning and when
the Times Union says, heavily favored but the truth turns out that it was a small
unscientific sample it seems to me like the TU is spreading a narrative not
facts, not the truth and definitely not news.

Look I get it earnest people can disagree about issues like
uniforms but what we should all agree with, is that we need a media that is
going to present facts, not one that is going to sell an agenda. 

Clay County rejects treating their teachers fairly.

From Paddywacko

Context:  After a year of negotiations the Teachers’ UNION declared IMPASSE with a school district unwilling to work with and compromise with the professionals doing the daily work in the classrooms with the children of Clay County.  A special magistrate was called upon to intercede and foster compromise.  The superintendent of Clay County, Charles Van Zant, Jr.,  refused to accept the magistrate’s judgement based upon the following (excerpted from his officially issued document “Employer School  District Of Clay County’s Objections to Special Magistrate’s Recommendations):

1     1.       In rejection of the union’s position that annual contract teachers be granted job security after three consecutive highly effective evaluations Van Zant stated  “The threshold to receive an effective rating is a 60% on the evaluation system which is an artificially low standard established by the Clay Assessment Committee of which union representatives constitute the majority.” 

The problem with his analysis here is that the 60% percent is not an artificially low number.  It is feasible to rate ineffective teachers below this number.  In fact, union representatives have approached school administrators in the past and expressed concern regarding working conditions because of an excess of walk through observations, both informal and formal, for teachers who continually produce results, supported by test scores, classroom data, and prior evaluations.  In addition to myriad other obligations, quality teachers were feeling overburdened, undervalued, and unappreciated. They felt as if they were being watched over as a parent with a child and morale was low.  When administration was approached regarding the issue, union leaders suggested that quality teachers be observed less frequently so bad teachers could be focused on, given due process, and dismissed if necessary.  Administration response was to claim the observation document was too verbose and complicated and they didn’t know how to utilize it effectively to run bad teachers out.  In other words, it was too hard for administration to identify bad teachers and help them improve, as superintendent Van Zant claims is the purpose of the evaluation document.  Continuing with this line of thinking, it would also be even harder to establish a teacher’s faults and prove them following the protocol of due process.  Essentially, the Clay Assessment system isn’t artificially low, the ability of county hired administration isn’t capable of doing the specific job they are tasked with in this regard.  A site-based analogy for those playing at home and unfamiliar with educational terminology would be akin to teachers being unable to fail incompetent students because of the teacher’s inability to identify the meaning of the diction used to formulate the content specific standards they are tasked with implementing on a daily basis. 

Secondly, to blame the weakness of the evaluation document on a committee “of which union representatives constitute the majority” is a not only a boldfaced lie but also a loaded statement with a political agenda.  The union is NOT a majority on this committee and the culpability implied by Van Zant does not lie with the union as his statements would lead one to believe.  He is intentionally distorting the truth to fit the narrative spun by his daddy and other like minds in the Florida legislature. 

 Furthermore, the teachers on this committee are likely to earn an average of about $45,000 annually and are tasked with planning, teaching, and grading daily lessons.  The majority of this committee is made up of principals who make close to six figures if not over 100,000 per year to not only supervise but also utilize said evaluation document as their main daily priority. In addition, the committee is led by the top ranking administrators in the district second only to the superintendent.  These committee members are getting paid in excess of 100,000 dollars per year and are tasked directly with the evaluation of personnel and instruction.  Essentially, their job revolves around this tool that the superintendent deems “artificially” substandard. If they can’t manage to lead a committee that creates an evaluation system that does not have “an artificially low standard” then there are some serious questions to be asked.  The logic does not follow.  The superintendent can’t have it both ways, either the document is flawed because his appointed staff is unable to do better or his refutation of the assessment system is unacceptable. 

2     2.       In rejection of the union’s position that annual contract teachers be granted job security after three consecutive highly effective evaluations Van Zant stated “…each annual contract would automatically renew if the teacher receives an effective or highly effective rating for three years. Such automatic renewals clearly go against the intent of Florida Statutes…”
This is simply not true, 27 of Florida counties already have this in place and there has been no attempt by the state to go after districts for willfully breaking the law. Van Zant goes on to say that the legislature “deliberately removed PSC language with intent to limit teachers’ entitlement to continuous automatic employment.”  First of all, the use of the word entitlement is both insulting and intentionally provocative. The right to have a secure job and steady means of income for those who consistently receive high evaluations and work “miracles” with groups of children most adults would flee from after only minutes in charge is not an entitlement.  It’s been earned.  Going back and noting the fallacy of  Van Zant’s position on point #1, most teachers in this district are legitimately, not artificially, highly effective, and it’s not “continuous automatic employment” to keep a job that’s been earned and is consistently done with eminence and diligence.  If Clay County is an “A” district, then the teachers who have done the actual work in the trenches have earned the right to keep continual employment, not question where the next meal or mortgage payment is coming from.  Teachers don’t need to manipulate election laws to secure employment, rather they do hard work and work hard at it. 

A side note, but one worthy of mentioning here, is that teachers on annual contracts don’t speak up, fight back, or shout down bad ideas.  They go along.  And when you go along with a bad idea, you are doing a disservice to the students and local populace.  Job security is a must if you are to do your job well because dissent can prevent failures from occurring before they happen.  And perhaps, people who want to keep others on edge, timid, and afraid might have the sort of  intentions that they don’t want brought to light. 

3 3.      In rejection of the union’s position that annual contract teachers be granted job security after three consecutive highly effective evaluations Van Zant stated “The anecdotal evidence the special magistrate referenced in support of his recommendation on this issue related to the Teacher of the Year that moved to Alachua county is arbitrary, at best.  While no one except that teacher can cite the rationale for his leaving, the School District notes that renewal in a “PSC-like” fashion as the union has proposed would effectively negate what the Florida Legislature intended in 2011.”

First of all, the teacher of the year, David Fields, has specifically stated at a school board meeting  that he feels that Alachua County can better provide job security because they offer such protections to their teachers.  When deciding between Alachua and Clay, Dave and his wife Kendra felt that Alachua was a far safer district to work than Clay with pending children on the way.  If she came to Clay, rather than him going there, they did not feel confident that she could maintain employment in a district that doesn’t value nor respect its professionals.

Secondly, to ensure future recipients of the Teacher of the Year award doesn’t prove to be a liability for the political careers of the Superintendent and certain members of the board, the process for selection and determination of the recipient has recently been changed so that certain voices lack a potential platform from which to speak harsh truths most seek to avoid and ignore. 

4   4.     Van Zant rejects the notion of teachers getting in-service credit for re-certification if they do not implement strategies from the in-service and follow up with paperwork and evidence of implementation. Van Zant states “In this regard, the School District believes that the Florida Department of Education protocols require that follow-up documentation should occur after implementation in cases in which the teacher is to use a new skill or strategy as part of the ins-service training.  It only makes sense that the effectiveness of the strategy can only be measured after it is implemented. “

Logistically, there are so many things wrong with this statement.  If it “only makes sense that the effectiveness” of anything “can only be measured after it is implemented” then all bad ideas would have to be put into practice before issuing judgement.  Telling my 11 year old son not to jump his bicycle over a pit of hungry alligators before actually attempting it is not beyond the pale.  Implementation isn’t always the path to determining impotence.    This sort of weak reasoning would preclude the existence of all management and supervisory positions. If all ideas need to be put into practice, all workers could just fling whatever they wish at the wall anytime they’d like and see what sticks.  There would be no need for planning and refining, just trial and error….always. 

Furthermore, to say teachers must implement a strategy in order to be awarded the points for re-certification (125 hours every 5 years plus a non-reimbursed fee approaching $100) is insulting and detrimental.  If a college educated, experienced, classroom professional determines that a day-long mandatory in-service training is nothing other than balderdash, they should be awarded credit for time served. What’s the reason for making them implement a bad idea that will just subtract another day (days) from instruction? Competent people can smell manure when thrown in their ugly mugs, there’s no need to feed it to the kids to ensure it is indeed ordure. 

5  5.        In his objection to the practice of “leapfrogging” (the practice of outsiders coming into the district coming into the district with credit for all experience while veterans loyal to the district are refused full credit for experience the superintendent states “The School District …has had difficulties in recruiting individuals in hard to fill positions, such as speech.  “

This is an absurd connection.  There is one reason why speech THERAPISTS do not take jobs in the county.   Salary.  In the private sector, there is more money to be made, significantly more money.  Furthermore, occupational therapists and physical therapists in Clay County are on a separate pay scale than speech therapists.  The speech therapists are on the teachers’ pay scale (even though they also require a  70-100 credit Master’s Degree along with state licensing and completing a certification of clinical competence which entails over 400 clinical hours and requires an annual renewal fee). The other therapists on the separate scale make about $25,000 per year more than speech therapists.  A speech therapist currently working IN Clay County Schools makes 70,000 a year working for a private contracting company.  Simply put, that means that the district is paying private speech therapists more than they would have to pay their own employees if they would just pay their current speech therapists on the therapist salary scale.  
The reason for the speech shortage isn’t because of “leapfrogging” but rather because Clay is lacking vision, coherence, competence, and community in its upper organization scheme. 


   6.      The impasse led to the district absorbing the magistrate’s fees for composing this report that the superintendent has rejected.  The school board will likely vote to reject it.  The teachers will likely refuse to ratify the school board’s rejections.  That takes us back to square one, negotiating a contract for the 15-16 school year, one that is essentially already over.  Hundreds, if not thousands of man-hours wasted.  This translates to dollars because time equals money, right?    So, essentially, this year ends with absolutely no progress between management and labor at a significant cost.  Therefore, it will be the 16-17 school year before negotiations pick up steam again and at that point it will be EIGHT (8) years without any pay increase.  Not a raise, just a pay increase.  No cost of living, contracted step increase, nothing…nada.  Just an ever increasing inflation and  rising cost of health insurance…adjusted for real dollars, the people doing the work in the schools of Clay have absorbed a net loss over the past decade of work while new positions and raises have been given to those in the ivory tower.  It’s unjust at best.  It’s indescribably profane for sure.

Florida, one of the most corrupt states in the nation

Harvard’s Center for Ethics came out
with a new report measuring the legal and illegal corruption in the states.
Florida faired particularly poor.  The
study said Illegal corruption is “moderately common” in Florida’s executive
branch, Illegal corruption is “very common” in the state’s legislative branch
and no state has a high ranking for illegal corruption in its judiciary. Nowhere
is this more evident than with charter schools.
Not only have charter schools give
hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations for favorable treatment but
legislators like representatives. Manny Diaz,
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, House Budget Chairman Seth McKeel, House
Education Appropriations Chairman Erik Fresen and Senators Anitere Flores and John
Legg all either own charter schools, work for charter schools or who have
spouses that own or work for charter schools and they routinely propose and
vote on charter school legislation that benefits them. Holy conflict of interest
Maybe I wouldn’t care if 313 charter schools
hadn’t taken public money and failed, the Associate Press hadn’t reported that
the state has wasted 70 million dollars on failed charter schools over the last
few years or of charter schools as a group did better than public schools but
they don’t.
What’s Tallahassee’s response to all this failure?
A bill requiring districts to share their local tax base with for profit charter
schools, another making it easier for them to open and nearly double the amount
that public schools get in maintenance funds.
Florida needs to stop the corruption taking
place in Tallahassee and charter schools are a great low hanging fruit place to start.

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