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The incredible denseness of Chris Christie or he attacks teacher unions again

Very familiar with bullying a CNN reporter asked Chris Christie who he thought was a bully on the national level. His response was to insult millions of hard working teachers everywhere. 

“Oh, the national teachers union,” Christie replied without hesitation. “They’re not for education for our children, they’re for greater membership, greater benefits, greater pay for their members.”

Um does Christie not understand what a union does?  Also if advocating for better pay and benefits is hurting education then it's not the union's fault it is the fault of those that chronically under fund education of which Christie is a chief culprit. 

It is a shame how teachers and their representatives have become the scapegoat for all that's wrong in education while those that make the polices that are often counter productive and starve education get a pass.

Christie is a tool and his poll numbers show that more and more people are picking up that and insulting and blaming teachers probably isn't the best way to dig out of the hole that he is in.

Teach for America life card

How bad is the idea of a charter school district really?

I can imagine Gary Chartrand, the man who is really in charge of Duval's schools kicking himself saying, why didn't I think of that, when Palm Beach Superintendent Robert Avossa proposed turning his entire district into a charter school district, a sentiment he never mentioned when applying for the job by the way.

The thing is if you can get past the initial shock of the headline it may not be that bad of an idea.

Now I am sorry if you just spit out your milk but the idea as he proposes it is not to give the district's schools over to mercenaries and privatizers but instead to give the district schools more flexibility.

I have long wondered that if the reason we have charter schools is so some schools can get around onerous regulations then why don't we get rid of the onerous regulations? The main reason I imagine being money as in the donors to the republican legislature in Tallahassee couldn't make any if they did that.

This is not to say I don't have serious concerns about the idea. The chief one is to make sure this is not just a way to get rid of veteran teachers and to make sure teachers are properly compensated for they hours put in. 

Then there is the class size requirements which may be gutted even further by this proposal. The only people who think packing kids like sardines into classes are the people who have never taught or been in those classes. 

Not one step forward should be made unless these and other concerns are addressed.

Or maybe if there are onerous regulations standing in the way of doing a good job we should just get rid of those regulations, doesn't that make the most sense?

Duval's parent academy, potential success or wasted money (rough draft)

From the Times Union: Like most initiatives, the Parent Academy's goal is student success. Vitti said with only two years of data, it is too soon to tell if the children of parents who've attended the program are doing better. He said the district intends to track data in the coming years.

When I read quotes like this from the district it makes me believe the parent academy, an idea which I like a lot, has been a disaster and a huge waste of money. You see this district loves to spin data to give themselves pats on the back.

Just this week they trumpeted the improvements in the FAA test grades. They didn't say, we have improved from last year, instead they stopped just short of throwing a parade.

Then I have written several times how they cheered a two percent gain in student engagement on a recent Gallup poll. In both of these instance the district either didn't need two years worth of data or two years was long enough to say, hey look how great we are doing.

My point is the district takes every opportunity to spin things in their favor, heck Vitti once said standing pat on the new FSA tests was actually an improvement, that it makes me think that the district doesn't know if the parent academy is working or not.

Like I said I like the idea of the parent academy and I know it seems like I come off hard on the superintendent but I like some of his other ideas too, the problem and what I don't like has been the half ass implementation of those ideas. (ISSP, arts and music)

This is what I think, the Times Union has reported 8,000 parents have participated in the parent academy. First I don't believe that number for a second, now I may be wrong but I know at my school which has gone all out and the program has grown it's generally the same six or seven parents plus a couple more here and there. I also reached out to another school and they told me they have had zero parents involved but they also lamented about the options their parents were given, which this past year was just two and at times that weren't convenient.

Second even if the number is less like I believe then the program is still worthwhile, we just have to make sure we are doing it right.

The good the bad and the ugly of the Student Success act.

Florida's VAM formula

VAM stands for Value Added Model and it is used to evaluate the state's teachers. Below is the formula.

y_i=μ+∑_(g=1)^M▒〖δ_g x_g 〗+∑_(j=1)^K▒〖β_j x_j+θ_(k)i+ω_(mk)i+ε_i; 〗

Rut Row!

The use of VAM by the way has been widely panned by both education and statistics experts. No other profession would be treated so shabbily.

To learn more about VAM quick the links:

Teaching Center by Key and Peele

Florida Alternative Assessment scores are up in Duval and that's a bad thing, Here is why. (rough draft)

Sometimes I feel like if the district said they liked puppies, I would be the guy who said, I don't, just because they did but the thing is, I love puppies and I love the district too. I just wish they would do things the right way.

News4Jax is reporting that the districts Florida Alternative Assessment (FAA) scores are way up. If you don't know this is  the test that is administered to severely and profoundly disabled children instead of the Florida Standards or what used to be the FCAT.

There is some controversy surrounding it because last year the state insisted it be given to a profoundly mentally handicapped child on their death bed and no I can't make that up. Plus a lot of special education teachers of profoundly handicapped children think it is a travesty and unsuited for testing them.

Now you might be thinking because our scores are up we must be doing something right, well no because at least part of the reason is as wrong as it gets.

It used to there were basically three levels of disabled children, ones that could be in the general ed setting, ones that were profoundly disabled and ones in between which were generally put in what were called Varying Exceptionality (VE) classes, which were watered down academic courses, that led to what was called a certificate of completion not a high school diploma. A couple generations ago a lot of these kids would have been our shop kids and would have graduated at least with a trade or some skills training.

The truth is at some point we started to do a lot of these VE kids wrong. I felt many with smaller classes, modified materials, extra time and a little bit of flexibility, many could pass the general education curriculum and I have a pretty good idea about this because I taught VE science for three years.

As usual the state went to far and phased out the VE classes and dumped what were the VE kids into regular education classes were more than a few swam but more than a few sunk too.

This brings us to the FAA. At Ed White High School and I have to believe if it has happened there it is happening elsewhere, instead of putting some of these former VE kids into the regular ed setting where sadly they would flounder and the chances of them passing the Florida Standards was low, they have been putting them into the intellectually disabled classrooms where they are grossly misplaced but there they don't hurt the stats of the school and actually help the FAA stats because that is the test they have been talking.

The FAA where to high and inappropriate for a lot of the profound kids is to low and just as inappropriate for these kids.

This by the way is not completely the districts fault. Tallahassee as it often does tied the district's hands by phasing out classes that were more appropriate for some of our kids but here is the thing, right is right and wrong is wrong and we did and continue to do some of these kids wrong. The very least we can do is not celebrate when the stats improve on a test that at least some of then should not be taking.

KIPP says college starts in Kindergarten (rough draft)

State board of education member Gary Chartrand said he would like to see as many as a dozen more KIPP schools in Jacksonville.

The reason might be because to KIPP college starts in Kindergarten. From LINKEDIN:

KIPP VOICE Elementary believes that college begins in Kindergarten. The cornerstones of our school are a caring and disciplined school community, culturally relevant curriculum, rigorous college-prep academics, and giving students the skills necessary to get to and through college. We strongly believe that a college education is vital to gaining opportunities in life, competing in today’s increasingly sophisticated global workforce, and fulfilling one’s potential. KIPP provides its students with a rigorous academic program and a school community built on the follow core values: Vision, Optimism, Imagination, Community, and Empowerment.

Though the reason might be he is clueless too.

Look I am a big fan and believe in college but in kindergarten my biggest concern was not wetting myself during nap time. Not worrying about where or if your kid goes to college when they are five does not make you a bad parent, though forcing them to go to a school that does might.

The whole ad also plays into many of the concerns people have about KIPP and that's they counsel out students who might not be interested in college or college material in their eyes and that the whole curriculum is based around kill and drill strategies so their students do well on standardized tests.

So if you want college to begin for your child at 5 maybe KIPP is for you but if you want your child to be a child and as they grow discover what they love and want to do, then it definitely is not. 

First Coast HS boundries

The ever expanding boundaries of First Coast high were a source of contention for the FC community. They felt a lot of students without neighborhood ties were attending the school and that was leading to a lot of friction and discipline problems. Please any member of the FC community correct me if I got that wrong.

At a community meeting to address that and numerous other problems Superintendent Vitti said he was going to tighten the boundaries to reflect the Ocenaway community.

A few days later however the Times Union ran a story which said the exact opposite and that the boundries were going to be expanded to take an influx of students whose neighborhood schools were converted to magnet or specialty schools. as you can imagine this generated a great deal of outrage in the FC community. I also wrote about Vitti's base betrayal of the FC community.

It turns out I wrote that prematurely as I decided to reach out to the Times Union writer to confirm what Vitti said, I am critical of the super but it doesn't do me or anybody any good for me to get things wrong and this is an important issue to a lot of people so I felt it deserved to be clarified.

 She replied and said, "Talked with him (Vitti) tonight and he hadn't noticed I used the word broadened. He says he plans to narrow boundaries for First Coast and Oceanway, sending future students to Ribault High and middle."

So it appears that the super is keeping his word to the FC community which is a good thing as in my opinion they are a neighborhood that has suffered greatly under his and his subordinates leadership. It is good that he is attempting to repair the damage done.

Now if only he would do something about the principal, then we might be cooking with gas.

Bobby Jindal's lame thanks to teachers

It's no secret that Louisiana has been tough on public schools and their teachers over the last few years. There are many teachers who spent their lives educating children in New Orleans who are now living hand to mouth thanks to Bobby Jindal's anti-public school policies throwing them out of their jobs.

Now two public school teachers from Jeanerette Sr High in Lafayette Louisiana are being hailed as heroes for saving lives during a movie theater shooting, that killed two and injured seven. This is far from the first time public school teachers have been recognized for their heroic efforts. 

Unfortunately teachers have become scapegoats for many of societies ills and ground zero for this has to be Bobby Jindal's Louisiana. 

Jindal however now that he is running for president was all to willing to give credit to public school teachers, a group he has regularly marginalized and demonized. This is what NPR is reporting he said:"One teacher literally jumping over her friend, potentially saving her life. Second teacher felt like that bullet would have hit her in the head if her friend hadn't jumped on her. The second teacher was shot anyway, in the leg — had the presence of mind to pull that fire alarm."
Thank you for acknowledging their efforts but Shame on you Bobby Jindal for only recognizing public school teachers when they get shot in a movie theater saving other people's lives and perhaps it's time you recognized the hard work they do and sacrifices they make on a daily basis.

It would be nice if Louisiana stepped up and helped with their medical bills but since that is unlikely here is a link to help.

The hypocrisy of Trey Csar and the Jacksonville Public Education Fund

I will just get right  to it, From the Times Union
What’s different are the teachers, said Trey Csar, president of Jacksonville Public Education Fund, which directs the Quality Education for All fund expenditures. The fund’s five-year goal is $50 million but it has raised $38 million for Duval schools, including the transformation schools.
“What really matters is high quality teachers and leaders,” Csar said. “How can we make sure these students get the best teachers and principals?”
He asks how do we make sure these students get the best teachers and principals? Well friends it is surely not by staffing the transformation schools with hundreds of untrained, non education majors which is what Teach for America does and the story doesn't mention it but 5 of the 38 million is going to put TFA in those schools.
Trey Csar joins the district in saying on one hand we need our best and brightest and on the other hand hey anybody can be a teacher and teach there. 

Is Iranetta Wright heartless or does she just come off that way?

Iranetta Wright is the admin in charge of the 36 transformation schools and she had an interesting comment in the Times Union when talking about the children in those schools
“This work is not for everybody,” Wright said. “Our work is tough. Many of our children come to school without their basic needs met. We don’t have a lot of time to empathize and sympathize with them.”
Instead, she said, teachers need to keep students focused on learning despite hardships.
Here is the thing I can keep my kids focused on learning while being sympathetic and empathetic, in fact being those two things make it easier for me to keep them focused because they allow me to build rapport. Teachers cannot ignore children’s circumstances and hardships and hope to be successful and it falls between ignorant and heartless for Mrs. Wright to imply that is what teachers should be doing.
How doesn’t Mrs. Wright understand that? I hope what she said was just in-artful and not indicative of how she really feels.
Having heart is a big part of being a teacher and to be honest it is something she has struggled with in the past.
So Mrs. Wright if you think kids are more than just numbers I would encourage you to encourage your teachers to get to know their children, to build relationships with them because doing that almost more than anything will lead to success.   

Subtle will soon be nonexistent in the Transformation schools (rough draft)

Words have power and for Duval County Public Schools which often makes huge deals out of incredibly small improvements to say the changes at the transformation schools have been subtle I can't help but think the changes they have made have been monumental failures.

A few weeks ago when the FSA scores came out Vitti said standing pat was actually an improvement and then earlier this year they made quite the fanfare over a Gallup poll which said students felt more engaged, the percentage increase was in the two percent range.

So to call what is happening at the schools SUBTLE!?! Oy vey.

Look I have no doubt things have improved at those schools to a degree and I have long advocated getting our best teachers in front of our neediest students, I just think bribing teachers and using VAM scores to determine who are best teachers were poor decisions. This is all compounded by the district inexplicably saying on one hand we need our best and on the other hand saying anybody can be a teacher and supplementing them with hundreds of Teach for America scabs, teachers.

The truth though is this is a gimmick. what's going to happen in two years when the money turns off. How many of those teachers are going to stay when they can go to other higher performing schools and get other bonuses? The answer is probably not many. The truth is we can't keep doing gimmicks that may or may not lead to short term gains and instead we need long term systemic solutions. The paper should have written district spends fifty million dollars to get right back where they started, that is what subtle really means.

To read an article about the transformation schools click the link: 

Rather than put a competent principal at First Coast High superintendent Vitti would rather...

Let me say some of these ideas are great and I think they should be implemented at all our high schools. 

Here is a list of what the super plans to put in First Coast in response to hundreds of parent complaints, massive staff turnover and a drop in overall performance. It was compiled by Erica Madson via Facebook. 

A dedicated SRO that will NOT be leaving the school to address the elementary as previously.
An additional security guard added to the team bringing the total to 6.
An ability to identify habitual troublemakers and arrange transfer to another school. A team has already been working on this and they plan to lock down on this unwanted behavior after 3-4 weeks of school. This gives the student a chance to turn things around, but it also enables them to track behavior.
Football games will continue as they are now with additional police support but Saturday afternoon games are a strong possibility for student and surrounding neighborhood safety
A new guidance counselor bringing the total to 5
A grad coach focused on Seniors needing additional support with graduation
A guidance counselor dedicated FB page for outreach which will included important deadlines and scholarship opportunities. This path was selected because it rapidly updates and is familiar in format to students and parents
A new appointment system for the guidance team available online for parents and students.
Accountability in the guidance department to a designated Administrator
An additional clerk dedicated to parent follow up in the office and guidance areas
This is being taken very seriously. Vitti has sought for approval to reduce FCHS and Oceanway MS boundaries to reflect what was historically used. This returns a large number of students to the Ribault area and Raines area. Andrew Jackson is still being considered for a dedicated magnet and he had no comment about where those students would be attending
Boundary change input is welcome and encouraged from FCHS PTA and SAC as well as OMS PTA and SAC. It is a lengthy process that won’t impact attendance area until a possible implementation for 2016-2017. Students will be grandfathered in. In general change won’t be realized for 3-4 years following implementation
MAJOR building and home construction as well as job growth is increasing population. A need for an additional middle and high is well known, but no plan is in place build a new school…yet. Vitti is hoping the boundary change process will provide data needed to take to the city council to push for new builds, but adds certain high schools and middle schools are very underutilized and is the reason for past blocking of building anything new. The push for boundaries along with the City of Jacksonville’s 2030 plan will be a significant push in the direction we need for new schools. Please plan to attend and voice your opinions at these meetings.
Faculty—still no answer about why we don’t have Dual enrollment teachers needed, but we will have a brand new dual enrollment certified math teacher Spring 2016. No others mentioned
The office of equity and inclusion will be attending the very first FCHS staff meeting to discuss past problems such as hostile workplace, bullying behavior, and intimidation. Mr. Wright, Dr. Vitti, and Mr. Davis plan to be at the first meeting and one or all three will be at subsequent meetings every 3 weeks.
A teacher appreciation committee has been formed
Focus this year from superintendent on down is trust. You are no longer alone. You have help that will be waiting for you, and the punitive behavior from Admin is to be ended.
Transparency. A quarterly meeting will be held at FCHS with Vitti, Wright, will be held for the community.
Twitter account that is school specific has been created. The purpose is to get factual information out to parents and students as rapidly as possible
Community Liaison….there will be someone official at the school that is dedicated to working to involve community partnerships and team building.
Discover Duval will visit FCHS and highlight the good things about our school 2x in the coming year, dates TBD
Code of conduct status
Still in review but likely to be official approved with changes end of August. Teachers and parents are encouraged to provide feedback with what’s working and what isn’t, citing specific examples is most helpful
It’s expected that the code of conduct will be upheld from day one…

Pretty impressive right? There is just one problem the person responsible for all the damage done to First Coast high school principal Al Brennan still has his job and in fact the super has referred to him as one of the city's best. Though to be honest if he was one of the city's best why would be Viti be on his third community meeting and implementing all of above.

After listening and talking to several First Coast community members I would categorize them as cautiously optimistic, just like I and many were when Vitti arrived, I hope their optimism isn't given cause to fade like many of ours has.