The Slant of the Times Union

The Times Union has long been a big part of my life. My mother worked there for nearly thirty years and I have fond memories of sitting around the table with her reading the paper. Now however I have to say I am a bit frustrated with the paper. They seem to be on the wrong side of the education debate. Even in their news pieces there seems to be a slant.

In a recent article about Micelle Rhee, controversial former D.C. schools chancellor, addressing the Florida Legislature, Brandon Larrabee sited her presence in the movie, Waiting for Superman. I say movie not documentary because many of its dramatic scenes were staged. Mr. Larrabee referred to the movie as being critically acclaimed, I say the movie was blatant propaganda made by a public school hating film maker, financed by billionaires interested in increasing their share in the education market through misinformation, teacher demonizing, charter schools and an increased reliance on standardized testing. In case you blinked, you should know that education has become a multi-billion dollar business.

You know what really gets me? It’s the fact that many of those that embraced Waiting for Superman as the gospel are the same people that will dismiss a Michael Moore movie as Hollywood crap. I share many of Michael Moore’s views but I know when I watch his films to do so with both eyes open and to take them with a grain of salt.

Even if all of what was portrayed in Waiting for Superman was true regardless of the fact much has been debunked, (sadly however that didn’t get nearly the press the film did) it would still only show a miniscule fraction of what is going on in our schools. It would be like looking at three doctors you knew were bad and then condemning the whole medical field nationwide because of their actions. Sadly however when Mr. Larrabee says critically acclaimed he gives the movie more credibility than it deserves.

You expect a slant from their columnists take Ron LittlePage for example. In Ron Littlepage’s column about the state potentially withholding funds if some of our schools don’t improve, he talks about the education commissioner losing him, well I can tell you right where he lost me. It’s when he wrote, “But we now have a strong School Board and a strong superintendent in place who are putting extra effort into improving these schools.” Mr. Littlepage exactly what school board and superintendent are you talking about?

This school board and superintendent, instead of following the law which I agree is draconian and instead of addressing the real problem, kids getting to high school unable to read and do math at grade level, without the skills they need to succeed, came up with some half baked plan to cut the schools in half creating two theme schools that would share the same campuses. And you are surprised the state said no thanks?

That proposal was not extra effort, instead it was crazy and a common definition of crazy is to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Well friends we have been waiting for over a decade for 1701 Prudential Drive to fix those schools. The superintendent by the way was there every day and several members of the school board have been there for years and not one of there quick fixes have worked. They reason is they stubbornly refuse to address the real issues those schools have and because of that nothing has changed.

Mr. Littlepage, I don’t want the schools closed or taken over, but we have real problems which need real solutions and if you, the school board and the superintendent aren’t going to part of that it’s time you got out of the way and let somebody else try. That in case you are still lost is all the state is saying.

Then there are the editorials, columns without authors. A couple of editorials ago a Times Union editorial asked, what doesn’t the School Board get. Well I am now asking the Times Union’s editorial board the same question. What don’t you get?

We have the superintendent and school board we need in place, the school board is heading in the right direction, we need to have patience. Do you know where those statements and dozens similar to them have come from? They over the last few years, that’s years, have come from editorials that have been written by the Times Union’s editorial board. How much patience can and should we have? How many ideas thrown like paint against a wall hoping something sticks are we supposed to endure from the school board and the administration at 1701 Prudential Drive?

I know editorials are little more than opinions but when put in respected forums like the Times Union they carry weight, they both influence others opinions and policy. And in this case they propagate the failed policies of our local education system and that is causing children to fall through the cracks. It is hurting kids.

Times Union if we follow your advice and be patient and this latest solution to save our ailing schools doesn’t prove to be any more effective than the last few are you going to take responsibility for all the children doomed to a menial existence or who have had their development retarded. Are you going to apologize to their families or the victims of the children who turn to crime because quite frankly they aren’t suited for the workforce or college? Or like you did a while back are you going to call for more patience, and are you going to say, when these members of the school board leave or are superintendent retires, the next ones are competent and sincere too.

Patience is one of the problems we have and I think when children’s futures are on the line we need urgency. Though like the editors of the Times Union are entitled to theirs, that’s just my opinion.

I am not saying you have to agree with me all I am asking is to think what is best for the children. Pushing them trough without the skills they need to be successful and without discipline and a work ethic is not what’s best for children. Cramming them into a one size fits all curriculum regardless of desire and aptitude is not what’s best for children. Deamonizing teachers and endorsing propaganda is not whats best for the children. What the times union reporters and editorial staff often recommend is not what is best for children.

The Times Union has a powerful voice; I wish they would speak more for the kids and not the superintendent, school board and others.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

What doesn’t the TU Editorial Board Get?

A couple of editorials ago a Times Union editorial asked, what doesn’t the School Board get. Well I am now asking the Times Union’s editorial board the same question. What don’t you get?

We have the superintendent and school board we need in place, the school board is heading in the right direction, we need to have patience. Do you know where those statements and dozens similar to them have come from? They over the last few years, that’s years, have come from editorials that have been written by the Times Union’s editorial board. How much patience can and should we have? How many ideas thrown like paint against a wall hoping something sticks are we supposed to endure from the school board and the administration at 1701 Prudential Drive?

I know editorials are little more than opinions but when put in respected forums like the Times Union they carry weight, they both influence others opinions and policy. And in this case they propagate the failed policies of our local education system and that is causing children to fall through the cracks. It is hurting kids.

Times Union if we follow your advice and be patient and this latest solution to save our ailing schools doesn’t prove to be any more effective than the last few are you going to take responsibility for all the children doomed to a menial existence or who have had their development retarded. Are you going to apologize to their families or the victims of the children who turn to crime because quite frankly they aren’t suited for the workforce or college? Or like you did a while back are you going to call for more patience, and are you going to say, when these members of the school board leave or are superintendent retires, the next ones are competent and sincere too.

Patience is one of the problems we have and I think when children’s futures are on the line we need urgency. Though like the editors of the Times Union are entitled to theirs, that’s just my opinion.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Will somebody please ask the DCSB the right question?

The Times Union asked the Duval County school board, do they get it? The answer to everybody by now should be a painfully obvious no? Its 2011 friends and the problems we are experiencing as a district with reading, intervening schools and so many other things did not magically appear over night; they have been here for decades. Though to solve these problems perhaps the district only needs to answer one question.

The question the Times Union and the city should be asking is how did all these children get to high school without the ability to read and in many cases do math at the appropriate level? Want to figure out why so many kids are doing poorly, well figure out how and why so many kids were passed onto high school without the skills they need to be successful. Answer this question and we might be able to figure out what to next. I can tell you what the answer will not be and that is they suddenly forgot everything they learned.

Friends as long as we continue to shrug our shoulders or turn a blind eye to why this is happening, as long as we don’t figure out why kids show up to high school unprepared and change it, we will continue to find ourselves in the same failing position, regardless of whatever fly by night fix, and make no mistake, splitting the failing schools into two theme schools each is as fly by night as you can get, the school board comes up with.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

The Times Union takes it’s first step

I felt like a new father who watched his baby take his first step when I read the Times Unions recent editorial on education. It was like they were finally walking up to the problems we have in the city. Sadly I have also been writing to them for years explaining how our school district wasn’t just failing minority children, that we’re an equal opportunity robber of hopes and dreams.

Now that the Times Union has taken that first step, it’s time for them to take another and ask the hard questions. We get that half our children can’t read at grade level once they get to high school but what somebody at 1701 Prudential drive needs to explain is how did all these children get to high school without the skills they need to be successful and how are our high schools supposed to miraculously catch them up? Is the Times Union not asking these hard questions because they are afraid they won’t like the answers?

Like the editor wrote, we ignore this at our peril.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

The economics of teaching

According to a recent article published in the Florida Times Union, one out of nine teachers is brand new this year. That means they have never taught before. In addition, according to our Superintendent five out of nine teachers have four years or less teaching experience. Nothing determines the success of a community as much as a quality education and I am incredibly concerned about these numbers. For any business, these statistics would indicate a staggering turnover rate. I am not saying experience is the one determining factor in the quality of our children’s education; however, I am saying experience definitely helps.

I believe the number one reason teachers leave the field of education is the lack of support from the administration when dealing with unruly children. I can not emphasize more and I will say it till I am blue in the face. Ten percent of children take up ninety percent of a teacher’s time and energy and not in a positive way. This leads to many children who need just a little extra help to fall through the cracks. And so many teachers run from the classroom ripping out their hair. The level of disrespect coming from some of these kids is unbelievable. I think we’re hired to be responsible for them, because their parents can’t do anything with them, and the juvenile justice system had had its budget whacked too.

So, here’s the lowly paid teachers on the front lines of solving one of society’s largest problems. But what is the value of an education… how can we teach that with a straight face while at the same time many of us are wondering how we’re going to pay both our mortgage and our student loans?

This brings me to the second reason I believe many teachers leave the field, and plainly put, it’s all about the money. Teachers get paid on a step system. Salaries are based on how many years they have of experience teaching. I am on step seven because this is my seventh year working for the district. Quite frankly, in today’s economy the money is not that great.

First year teachers start at thirty-seven thousand dollars. But compare that to the national average of what people with bachelor’s degrees make according to the US Census bureau in 2005 and we’re far behind $51,206 dollars. Teachers with bachelor’s degrees on the current pay scale are not scheduled to receive a salary of 51,206 dollars, well almost that amount anyway, until they are twenty years into their careers.

Now if I had a master’s degree (which would cost about $20,000 in tuition) I could expect to make that amount after 19 years. However, the national average for people with advanced degrees is over seventy-four thousand a year. That national average salary for 2005 isn’t even on the Duval County Teacher salary chart; no teacher in Duval county no matter how long they teach or how educated they are, or how many rewards they receive will ever make that amount.

Furthermore our yearly increases do not keep up with inflation. After one year, the first year teachers raise is less than one percent or about 20 bucks a month. In Jacksonville inflation is currently about seven percent, which means second year teachers have about seven percent less spending money, and then this problem just snowballs. Teachers are annually crippled by inflation, because teachers’ salary increases are so minuscule. Most teachers stay less than five years because often they can’t afford to stay any longer. Not only does each year, their checks don’t go as far, but who wants to work at a place where after five years due to inflation your actual buying power has decreased by ten or more percent.

The newspaper today had an article about budget cuts. One of the areas scheduled to be cut is supplies. The district pays for supplies! This was news to me. At the beginning of the year, I spent about two hundred and fifty dollars to outfit my room and this was generously refunded to me by the teacher lead money. Since then, I would say I spend on average about twenty-five dollars a week on things for my room. This is money which will never be refunded, and I consider myself frugal when I compare myself to many other teachers. Then there’s the kid who has forgotten his or her lunch money again, or doesn’t have a winter coat and guess who finances that? Usually it’s the teacher. Continuing education, recertification, teaching materials and so much more each year also bite into our annually shrinking pay.

Our Superintendent has said through these next budget cuts he is hopeful that he can maintain the present level of teacher pay and benefits. I am confident his recent massive raise is not in any danger. Or the generous salary earned by the School Board and other school administrative officials, when I say we don’t go into teaching to be rich I obviously just mean most of us. Here is the thing unless Mr. Pratt-Daniels wants to continue with the massive hemorrhage of turnover in teachers he had better do better than try to keep the status quo.

I have sent him and school board literally dozens of ideas designed to increase teacher compensation. My plan is basic. It does not give teachers more actual money but it does have their buying power increased. Basically, teachers would be eligible for various employee discounts through out town. My selling point was: What corporation or business would not want nine thousand new customers and the prestige of saying they support local education in their advertisements and literature? I have heard nothing back. You would think in these difficult times the administration would want suggestions and ideas from anyone and everyone. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case.

Even if they flat out hated my ideas there are so many things our superintendent and the school board could be doing. All I hear about is cutting this and cutting that. I am not sure if they were elected to look at a spreadsheets bottom lines and say; “Let’s get rid of this and that.” I thought they were voted in to make things better.

Here is a free one Mr. Superintendent and school board! Please go meet with out elected officials in Washington and have them propose teachers be exempt from the federal income tax. A huge segment of the population believes the IRS and the income tax is already on the way out anyway. Let’s get ahead of this. For that matter let’s have police, fireman, other first responders and our military forces also be exempt from paying federal income taxes as well. I believe if you are going to commit your life to helping society, society at least should pay you a wage which allows you to pay your bills, which allows you to live.

I know in these economic times, everyone feels the pinch. But if the extra five thousand dollars taken out for taxes is returned to me it is not going to make me rich. It would be the difference in having a savings account and not having one. It would be the difference between teachers’ paying for emergencies with their money rather than their credit cards. It will be the difference between me and many others staying or leaving teaching. And wanting to make a difference is what brought us here in the first place.

Another silly teacher comparison

I hate having to explain basic things to adults, I think they should just get it. Yet once again the Times Union has proven it doesn’t understand what teachers do or what the problems with education are. They demonstrated thus when the clumsily compared teachers to foot ball coaches after they wrote: Many of us have no patience with even mediocre football coaches before a change is made. Why do we have so much more patience with fair-to-poor schooling?

With a nod to my friend Roger Daily I will attempt to explain some of the differences between teachers and football coaches.

Football coaches have kids that want to be there, who are excited and who want to do well, teachers often do not.

Football coaches often have all the resources they need after all what players comes to practice without their pads. Many teachers are constantly supplying materials to their students or their classes are going without.

If a kid acts up, is late or misses practice the football coach has many options to discipline them. I have my teacher look and voice and if I have to write a referral rarely does anything meaningful happen to the student.

If a kid curses out their coach or threatens them they can be kicked off the team, I have to take them back the next day.

Are we seeing the differences? Do I need to continue because I am just getting rolling?

If the Times Union is talking about college coaches well for the most part they are well compensated, where I know many teachers who live in fear of an illness or a blown tire or some other mundane life occurrence as they are little more than pay check to pay check. I know more than a few teachers with second jobs.

Football coaches don’t have administrators breathing down their backs telling them what play to call and when to call it. No, they were hired at least partly because of their creativity and initiative. Sadly for teachers learning schedules and curriculums have robbed many of them of those things.

Football coaches get to pick and choose their players, where teachers have to try and do their best with whoever sit in their seats.

Football coaches have staffs that help them. I have a lady who if I am really nice to her might make me some copies if she doesn’t forget or if a million other things don’t come up.

Football coachers aren’t buried with mountains of paperwork that only have a superfluous relationship with teaching, teachers are.

Is that enough are the differences now readily apparent?

When the Times Union and others make these childish and inaccurate comparisons (Finland anyone?) they do teachers and education a disservice. You see we have serious issues and it is going to take serious people to solve them.

Times Union off base

By Roger Daily

The Times-Union starts out the New Year conversation on education (which should be a firestorm in Florida in 2011) by comparing education to coaching football. I have done both extensively and I can vouch there exists some similarities. Their “analogy?” Since high-profile football coaches are held accountable for their team’s performance (e.g., get fired) then a similar hot seat for teachers is in order. The problem is that football players are there VOLUNTARILY. They WANT to be there. They love it, are getting a scholarship, getting a salary, etc. K-12 students are compelled to attend. The difference there is obvious. Add in the fact that those high-profile coaches are compensated with a significantly higher salary, and the analogy falls apart. Are you serious, T-U? The analogy was cute, concise, and totally misleading. C’mon!

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Insulted again

They wrote: “If you could make all the teachers as good as the top quarter, the U.S. would soar to the top … So can you find the way to capture what the really good teachers are doing?” – Bill Gates in Newsweek.

“Football teams do this all the time.” – Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in Newsweek.
Our comments: Many of us have no patience with even mediocre football coaches before a change is made. Why do we have so much more patience with fair-to-poor schooling?

I have three questions for the editors of the TU, my first two are; What do you propose we do times union, and couldn’t we use this same argument with any profession, including ignorant newspaper editors.

At this point the Times Union have gone from ridiculous to embarrassing. They should put on the mastiff, we hate teachers. Why not be honest?

My last question is, do you (the TU editors) really believe teachers as a group are horrible or the number one problem facing education or are you just trying to curry favor with the rich and powerful, the flavor of the moment. If it is the former back up what you say with some facts and if it is the later which is what nobody with with any knowledge about education agrees with (hello poverty, destroying creativity and initiative, wrecking discipline, teachers being forced to pass kids without the skills they need and one size fits all curriculum) then admit it because you not doing so is doing all of society a disservice.

Hi, mu name is TU editor, I hate kids and teachers, please buy my paper.

sick

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Mayor Peyton calls Duval County school district colossal failure

In a Times Union editorial Mayor John Peyton referred to the Duval County Public School District as a colossal failure. Wow right, not just a failure but a colossal failure. Why didn’t he just say a failure of biblical proportions?

The Times Union said they wouldn’t go that far, after all the district has received a B grade from the state. Sorry to disappoint the Times Union but it is a gentlemen’s B as the district has become an expert at massaging certain numbers like more kids taking A.P. classes, giving fewer suspensions and making it nearly impossible to withdraw kids to inflate our grade. Though to be honest I wouldn’t go as far as “colossal failure” either.

The truth is there are incredible things going on at all our schools; even our supposed worse schools and for the most part they are the interactions between our teachers and our students. The thing is the district cannot continue to put our students and teachers in no win situations and then scratch their heads when they don’t succeed to the level that they wanted. It’s a wonder and a credit to our fine teachers dedication and professionalism that we are doing as well as we are.

We can’t continue to push kids through with out the skills they need, ignore discipline and over load and dump on teachers. We must try to address our most struggling kids problems most of which aren’t school related and also have more than the one size fits all, everybody is going to go to college curriculum which serves fewer and fewer children that we have now. If we want to be successful that is. If we don’t do those things then it probably won’t be long before the Times Union as most of the city already does, agrees with the mayor.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Editorial Bias

I know editorials are little more than opinions but when presented in respected forums like newspapers they often take on more meaning than that and many people believe what is written to be fact. Take for example the Times Union writing about how only 23 percent of America’s top graduates go into education as if that is a bad thing. Can any other profession boast about so many top graduates joining it. Are 23 percent of the nations top grads entering law enforcement, or medicine or business or any other field? I don’t think so and if the stat is right that means over a fifth or our supposed best and brightest are choosing education over the thousands and thousands of other careers out there. But instead of celebrating that it’s used as an indictment against teachers. Here is a stat the Times Union didn’t mention, less than half of all first year teachers whether they are the best the nation has to offer or not do not make it to year five preferring to find employment in other fields. Rarely are the reasons, the children or the money, given for their decision to leave.

Then the Times Union further muddies the water by comparing American teachers to the teachers in Finland, which draws the vast amount of its staff from the top third of college graduates. They fail to mention that teachers in Finland are paid substantially more than their American counterparts, there classes are very small, they play a role in policy and curriculum and are one of the most highly unionized groups around. Comparing teachers in both countries is not like comparing apples and oranges it’s like comparing apples to a five-course meal, with America being the apple.

There are many issues in education and teacher quality is one of them, as we should always strive to put our best and brightest in our classrooms. However if we were to list the issues with education, poverty, standardized tests, one size fits all curriculum, a lack of discipline, unfunded mandates, etc. teacher quality however would be way down the list, not at the forefront as the Times Union and others would have the public believe.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher