Vitti’s selling of the QEA schools, insults teachers and is light on facts.

It’s no secret that Vitti has a lot riding on the QEA
initiative to turn around some of our traditionally low performing schools and
by low performing I mean do poor on the standardized tests that Florida gives.
The biggest part of the QEA initiative is a talented teacher transfer
initiative that will pay a few teachers an unprecedented amount to get them to
transfer from higher performing schools, and by higher performing I mean do
better on the states standardized tests to the lower performing ones. The
problems here are legion.
First the district used VAM scores to determine who would be
eligible for the transfer. If you don’ remember those are the wildly inaccurate
scores generated by a complicated mathematical formula comparing how teachers
are doing to what the VAM score predicted they should be doing. The problem
here is the district has used a bad measurement. The department of education found a 36 percent error rate
for value-added measurements.  That
means a department that has touted VAM
and has a lot riding on it’s success found that more than one in three are
inaccurate (1). That is a poor starting point but it gets worse.
Paying the teachers, and I believe all teachers should be
paid substantially more than they are, the extra money is really a form of
merit pay and merit pay has never worked. Merit pay unfortunately tends to
measure the motivation and ability of the student rather than the motivation
and ability of the teacher (2) (3) (4). That hasn’t stopped Vitti and the rich
businessmen who have donated the money from doubling down on this failed
concept. We expect the businessmen not to understand education but not
Vitti. 
Furthermore this talented teacher initiative has been
attempted before to very mixed results. A department of education study filed
88 percent of the openings at low performing elementary and middle schools in
the test area. It did see great gains at the elementary school level but none
at the middle and didn’t even attempt it at the high school level. More telling
though is when the money turned off only 60% of the transfers remained at the
new school the year after (5). Well friends what is going to happen when the
QEA money runs out in three years? 
While
attempting to sell the QEA initiative superintendent Vitti was also misleading
with his talking points. He said “Research indicates this, that the number
one factor that influences student achievement — meaning students doing well
academically — is teacher quality,” (6).
 Well not
so fast. From school matters:
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. (7)
So if other
factors (poverty) play a larger role (poverty), then why are we ignoring them
(poverty)? Poverty is the number one measurable statistic in education; those
kids that live in poverty do far worse than those that don’t. It is also the
most ignored statistic in education and the QEA initiatives continue to do just
that. Just look where the QEA schools are, you know the ones with all the bad
teachers. They are in sections of town wracked by extreme poverty. Now look at
where the teachers schools are that are coming to replace them. Invariably they
are in the middle and upper middle class sides of town. The QEA in effect is
addressing a blister on a toe and ignoring the broken leg. Let me ask you a
question, what problem have you ever fixed by ignoring 80 percent of it? (8)
(9)
Lets ignore
all the facts, evidence and studies after all Vitti and the members of the QEA
board have, but why does Vitti have to be so condescending to teachers? From
Action News: “You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” said Superintendent
Nikolai Vitti.

Vitti told parents and educators Monday that nearly 200 low-performing teachers
are now gone, removed from the 33 elementary and middle schools that feed into
Jackson, Ribault and Raines high schools. (10)

Wow! Low performing! How about dedicated, hard working
willing to tackle the challenges that most people and even many teachers
wouldn’t.  These teachers may not have
been able to overcome the dehibilitating effects of poverty that their students
endured but I shutter to think where their kids would be without them and they
deserve better than to be ridiculed by the super.
This is far from the first time Vitti has been dismissive of
teachers too.
“Now, is the time to try to create a group of individuals who
are deeply committed–and with either high level potential talent or proven
talent–to work in these schools as we face these new (Florida) standards,”
(11)
It’s no secret that poor teacher morale has been a problem
here in Jacksonville. The superintendent has mentioned it as well as various
school board members. So what does the super say when a study comes out
excoriating, I mean really slamming the districts teachers? Well according to
the Times Union he gives it, high marks. (12) (13)
Then from the Times Union: Vitti said no one is labeling these teachers
as failures. He predicted many will probably improve performance in a new
environment, especially if the pressures and challenges of poverty are less at
their new schools.
Vitti added that about five
years ago, when he oversaw some 500 teacher transfers out of Miami’s 66
“transformation” schools, most of those teachers who left low-performing
schools got better at their new jobs.
They got better? That or they went to schools where poverty wasn’t
such a crippling factor.
Finaly I would like to address the QEA board, a bunch of
rich white guys (and one girl) who have become a defacto unelected school board
allowed to set policy behind closed doors. We without a doubt need the
community to step up since Tallahassee has abdicated their responsibility to
fund our schools, but what we don’t need is a lot of rich white guys (and one
girl) dictating policy. (14) They aren’t from the neighborhoods, they are not
teachers and they have never been in classrooms or schools too. The only thing
they have more than money is hubris because they think their money and ideas
disconnected from facts and evidence can fix our problems. 
I know I come off as negative here but I think some aspects
of the QEA initiatives are good. I think getting our best teachers to our
neediest students is a great idea, just using VAM scores and bribing them is a
poor way to do it. Then upgrades in technology and an equitable distribution of
resources are long over due. But with that being said, unless we address
poverty, unless we put in reforms with evidence that say they work, like
smaller classes and unless we put in both academic and behavioral supports for
students and teachers alike then all it is a waste of time, effort and money.
We do have serious issues in education what we don’t have
sadly is serious people coming up with serious solutions.

(14) https://testing.gfordistrict3.com/2014/04/vitti-gives-control-of-district-to.html

2 Replies to “Vitti’s selling of the QEA schools, insults teachers and is light on facts.”

  1. I have been following the media coverage to date. I have not found any coverage on qualifying teachers at transformation schools that were placed for surplus. Am I the only one?

  2. What qualifications more than a 4-year degree does a teacher need to teach the alphabet and adding numbers, to high school students. In some countries around the world there are university lecturers with 4-year degrees who teach at universities. So why need more qualifications than a 4-year degree to teach kindergartners? It shows that Americans don't have faith in their own colleges and universities.

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