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Elementary school reading teachers feel set up to fail, not optimistic about future.

It started at the beginning of the year when curriculums in reading classes with little notice were shifted down a grade. What kids would have learned in third they were now going to now learn in second, in first, second and so on. The district claimed it would bring more rigor. People doing the actual teaching pointed out, harder and developmentally inappropriate does no equal rigor.

Furthermore the curriculums given to the teachers could be charitably described as jumbled messes. There were links to different articles over different grades to be carried out at different times. There didn’t seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason but what was consistent was teachers were often required to make copies.  The state of copying in the district could be an entirely different post but let’s just suffice to say this was problematic for a whole host of reasons.

A lot of veteran teachers with years of experience knowing what does and doesn’t work were able to game the system so to speak and instead of following the poorly thought out mandates gave their students the instruction that they needed to the best of their ability. Newer teachers or teachers being micromanaged at the transformative schools however weren’t so lucky.

The district also promised additional training, help and resources but none of the teachers I have spoken to said any ever came and now the district has decided to scrap what they have going on now to go completely on-line next year. Maybe that will be better because it's hard to imagine things being worse.

I spoke with somebody close to the situation and the district contends that it is teachers who came to them pushing for the change and that it will save a lot of money though the teachers I have spoken to have their doubts.

I haven't heard of anyone being in a focus group. And I don't know a single Primary teacher that was happy with the curriculum this year. They are saying it is a savings over a two year period? A textbook adoption is 5-6 years. So no savings if you think about the amount of copies and materials printed over 5-6 years versus purchasing textbooks once. Also, the district doesn't make the copies for us. They send links. We print out copies on our own and then sometimes put in for copies at the school. BUT...we buy our own ink for the printers because the district does not provide it. Also, they aren't fixing or replacing printers that die out. We are told to share, and that eventually they want to go to a centralized printer in the main offices.

Young children K-2 still need to have books in their hands that are written in their level. We can't do everything on a projector screen or on copy paper. Some of the links/resources they send are long with no pictures. K and 1 are learning how to read. They need larger print and pictures to provide support. We don't need lessons written by former teachers who are now district level coaches, who have no researched based curriculum writing experience!! The textbook writers are specialists and professors who know how to help students learn to read!! The online reading and materials may be good for intermediate grades, middle, and high school. Primary students need researched based materials and lesson that build on one another. They can't tell me that Scott Foresman, HM, or Harcourt don't have common core aligned lessons that build in skills.” 

I guess the bottom line is, if the district and the people doing the actual teaching are not on the same page then we can’t be successful. Though the real problem might be that the district doesn't seem very interested in getting on the same page.

Gary Chartrand thinks YOU and your children should take what you get.

Words have meanings and I think the latest from Gary Chartrand are quite telling. If you don’t remember Chartrand is a grocer who parlayed his campaign donations to a spot on the state board of education.
From the Tampa Times, when talking about a possible misstep from education commissioner Pam Step:
"I've admired her work ethic and her desire to do right by kids," chairman Gary Chartrand said.
Still, he quickly added, "Nobody is perfect."
Chartrand said he didn't want to get into details. "But there's always room to improve," he said. "I know you were not satisfied with the glitches we had in testing."
Oh, he knows YOU were not satisfied by the glitches we had. I personally am not satisfied with the word glitch because the state roll out was a disaster.

Why did he say, you, instead of we? Probably because he doesn’t really care what happens to public school kids, in fact I bet he thinks families that send their kids to public schools are morons and beneath contempt for doing so. He sent his kids to expensive and exclusive private schools that were exempt from the tests and he wants to funnel public school kids into barely regulated private schools that don’t have to take the tests either. 

You may not have been satisfied with the roll out but I bet he loves it because it gives public schools a black eye and will cause even more kids to leave. He is part of a regime that created a disaster and now seeks to benefit off of it.

The question now is will YOU let him?  

Just how out of touch is the State Board of Education? Very Apparently

Pam Stewart’s term as commissioner of education has arguably been a failure. Not only has the accountability system untraveled, the state rushed headlong into tests they weren’t ready for and during her tenure she has systematically ignored the states superintendents, teachers and parents. All of that gives her two thumbs up from the state board of education which I remind everyone once again does not have a true educator on it.

From the Tampa Times: Board members largely praised her work during the nearly two years she has served, lauding her efforts to improve student achievement while shepherding new standards through a politically charged atmosphere. She is the longest-serving of four education commissioners during Gov. Rick Scott's five-year tenure. (There were two others not counting her two stints as intern commissioner)
Others were not as kind, probably because they are ignorant like the board is to what is happening.
Their favorable treatment of the commissioner drew barbs from Florida BadAss Teachers, a vocal statewide educators group.
"Florida has become Alice in Wonderland," group spokesman Thomas James, a Miami teacher, said in a statement.
He added: "Today, the inept State Board of Education showed why we have become the laughing stock of the country when it comes to education policy. ... After a disastrous year filled with repeated failures and a badly bumbled transition to new state tests, Commissioner Stewart is given a glowing evaluation."
Just yesterday I asked what Pam Stewart has to do to be fired and the answer is apparently nothing. She can do anything she likes to the states teachers, schools and children and the clueless board will smile and give her a thumbs up.
Florida’s teachers get a lot of flak mostly for not being able to single handily overcome the debilitating effects of poverty, it’s just sad that their already tough jobs have been made harder because of inept leadership.

Let me explain to you how bad Duval's discipline is.

Action News did a story about a fight at Grand Park the alternative school for kids with discipline problems. Let me stop right there, discipline is so bad in some of our schools I imagine the kids there either murdered nuns or drowned puppies.

Action New's take was look at this fight filmed by a student, and how a teacher did not rush to break it up. First why would they, teachers that break up fights now days get suspended or seriously injured and the kids that fought get a righteous, finger point and a please guys (or girls) don't do that again.

Where action News saw the video and thought gosh why didn't that teacher break up the fight, I saw the video and thought what is a kid at the alternative center doing with a phone?!? These kids have behaved so poorly they can't be in a normal schools but it hasn't occurred to the powers-that-be to take away their phones. What the $%#@!!!!

It's unbelievable what we let these kids get away with. Discipline was not good before Superintendent Vitti arrived but since he has got here things have gone off the rails and it's a wonder we haven't had a repeat of what happened on the alternative school bus last week happen in one of our schools.

Kids need consequences for poor behavior and our most vulnerable kids need follow up by social workers and mental health counselors, they don't need pat on the backs and please don't do that agains. Discipline is hard and our super is making things worse. Now will somebody take that kids phone away?

What does education Commissioner Pam Stewart have to do to get fired?

First there was her saying that common core would cost nothing extra, spoiler alert it has cost tens of millions of dollars more.

Then she outsourced our test development to Utah at the cost of five million dollars, because you know they are so similar to Florida.

She then said districts would be ready for the new state tests despite all the districts saying, um no we won’t.

The latest guffaw is the end of course exam for algebra and various other math subjects won’t count because they weren’t validated in time. Did the end of the school year catch her by surprise?

If all of above was not enough the lost confidence and out right revolt over testing that has taken place on her watch should be more than enough.

Mrs. Stewart should be let go and the state board of education which does not have one true educator on it should follow quickly behind her.

Then before anybody gives her credit for the graduation rates rising, I would like to point out that across the nation they have gone up and I sincerely believe here in Florida the elimination of the mandatory Algebra II and Physics or Chemistry requirements is mostly responsible.

Education is serious business unfortunately here in Florida we have put people in charge who have not been up to the task.  

Florida issues no apology for ruining school for so many students.

Today Florida shrugged it’s shoulders and said, you know what, all those intensive reading classes that we forced kids into, you know the ones that were often over crowded, that didn’t have enough resources and kids universally hated, well it turns out we were wrong on that one and now we’re going to let districts, you know the ones closest to the students, come up with plans they think are best for each student.

There was no apology to the decade of kids they made hate school and robbed of job by replacing elective classes with remedial ones that turned out to be ineffective.

It reminds me of the time they made every kid take chemistry or physics and algebra II, you know incredibly hard classes that most kids will never ever, did I mention never use or they wouldn’t be allowed to graduate. I don’t think it is a coincidence that grad rates started going up a couple years ago when they said, maybe that’s not the best plan. Jeb Bush and his foundation fought against getting rid of those classes by the way.

Who is going to want to bet that in a couple years, after hundreds of millions of dollars are spent and hundreds of thousands of teachers and kids are made miserable the state will say, yeah about that common core thing.

If you want education to improve get Tallahassee out of it.

Why is Superintendent Vitti punishing staff for doing their jobs?

Last summer when school grades came out it was a disaster. Duval’s school grades plummeted at an unprecedented rate. The school board then extended the super’s contract and did so some nine months before they had to.

If the super’s job is to raise school grades then he has arguably been a failure.

That’s why it is really amazing that he has disciplined two staff member for doing their jobs.
The first is Oscar Harris an assistant principal at Westside High School who was suspended for 30 days for breaking up a brutal fight.  The way I see it Mr. Harris, 52 years old, put himself on the line to protect other students and staff and instead of being thanked he was hung out to dry. Should Mr. Harris have let the kids beat each other into a pulp?

Then there is Cheryle Ferlita, the former district academic services director over reading language arts for grades three through five. Her job was to help reading coaches and teachers prepare their children for the state tests and she was demoted to reading coach and her grievous sin was doing her job. She passed on a reading prompt that was similar to one that was on the test. Did the district want something different?

Teacher morale is rock bottom and I am sure staff being punished for doing their job is not helping things. Time and time again the super has also said denigrating things about the district’s staff now he has taken to punishing them for doing their job.

The super has powerful friends in the city. The business community and the elites love him but should that be enough? I mean isn’t his job to improve things, and he might not get it but punishing people to success is not going to get the job done.  

Said no teacher ever!

Superintendent Vitti sure doesn't waste a crisis.

am just going to get to it.

From the Times Union: 

School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said two adult monitors on the bus helped care for the victims.

“We placed (additional personnel) on alternative buses months ago to prevent issues, once there was an escalation of violence in the community,” he said.

Does he think for a second anybody thinks the monitors were placed on the bus to protect kids from outside dangers? How gullible does he think the people of Jacksonville are? The extra monitors were on this bus and other buses like it to protect students from each other and him implying other wise is disingenuous.

It would likewise be disingenuous of me to lay this tragedy at the feet of the super, our discipline problems and I think this bus incident is a direct result of them, predate the super but at the same time I and many others believe he has exacerbated the problems we already had.

Discipline is hard but that doesn't mean we can ignore or play lip service to it. Kids have to get meaningful consequences for poor behavior and then we have to get to the root of the problems why so many kids act. Investing in counselors and social workers would have been a better use of our resources than hobbyist TFA teachers and merit pay scams. 

So superintendent Vitti it's time you stopped talking about discipline and started doing something about it, your sound bites do not ring true.

The Times Union's unfortunate choices continue.

The Times Union is at least partially responsible for why our education system chronically underachieves. They are on the wrong side of most education issues and they pass on s many important stories you would think keeping people in the dark not informing them was their job.

Above is just another example of how out of touch they are.

Jacksonville does not have the paper it deserves.

What the media is missing about the bus shooting story: Bus Monitors

Just about every news story about Thursday’s tragic bus shooting has mentioned that the school bus in addition to the driver two monitors. The implication is Duval County is really trying to protect our kids. The thing is the monitors aren’t there to protect them from shooters waiting at bus stops or any other outside threat, they are there to protect the students from each other.

You see we have a violence problem in some of our schools and sure there are lots of outside influences that contribute to it but I and many others don’t believe the district isn’t doing all it can to do stem it. In fact we believe they are exacerbating the problem instead. Things are so bad it’s hard for me to imagine what a child has to do now days to get sent to an alternative school seeing how much they can get away with in a regular one. The list of offenses must truly be spectacular.

Kids need consequences for poor behavior and where I am not advocating cruelty I think a little over correction can be beneficial too. Disrespect a teacher, that’s not an hour in ISSP, instead that’s three days where you are required to show up, do all your work and follow all the directions or you get more days. Kids fighting, a minimum three day suspension which could be reduced to one day if a parent agrees to shadow the kid for a day. I know if my mom were required to be with me at school for the day after I acted up, it would have nipped a lot of future bad behavior in the bud.

By not addressing bad behavior and by not giving consequences for it, the district is courting a tragedy and it’s really a wonder this kind of violence hasn’t already happened in one of our schools and I believe unless we change things up it is just a matter of time before it does.  

Mom upset teacher didn't break up a fight? Um why would they?

I know that sounds hard but follow me for a moment.

From Action News Jax: A local mom said a teacher did nothing to stop kids from fighting in the classroom at a school where we have shown you at least one other fight has happened.

This is the third parent in two weeks who’s come out and said their child was either punched or jumped right in front of teachers at Jefferson Davis Middle School.

When you break up a fight in Duval you run the risk of getting injured and now even suspended if some absentee power that be thinks you are to rough. Teachers also know the system is set up now so kids get the barest if any consequences for fighting as it really rate as an offence anymore and maybe that's why kids have moved to shooting into buses.   

Most teachers will throw caution to the wind and try and intervene and I salute them but at the same time I am not going to denigrate those that practice the better part of valor and don't.

Duval County has put teachers into untenable situations and that's why parents wonder why teachers let kids fight.

Duval says they are going to reduce testing.... again? How can we believe anything they say?

The headline from News4Jax read:  Duval Co. schools to reduce student testing.

The headline from the Times Union said: Superintendent Nikolai Vitti promises fewer tests for Duval Students.

The News4Jax headline was from today where the Times Union one was from March of 2014. 

Who wants to bet I can find something from earlier?

Yep here is something form 2012 too.

Vitti is the equivalent of the boy who cried wolf with testing... charter schools... the importance of teachers... and discipline too.  Sigh, where is the promise this guy arrived with, was it all an illusion?

Sadly his words rarely ring true anymore. 

Duval County goes after 8 year old for violating test security. (rough draft)

Do I have your attention? Above is absurd right? Well the reality of what happened isn’t far from there and the whole thing started with a fourth grader.

First the district could have gone after a fourth grader who pointed (out) how similar a real writing prompt was to the practice prompt. Revealing test information is a first degree misdemeanor. Instead the district went after Cheryle Ferlita, the district academic services director over reading language arts for grades three through five. Her grievous sin? Doing her job.

From the Times Union:

Duval County Public Schools recently demoted a district administrator after she circulated a practice essay question, called a prompt, that resembled a real essay question on the state’s new fourth-grade
writing test.

Some School Board members asked Vitti why he was demoting her instead of taking the more customary actions after investigating an educator. In recent months, other disciplined educators received written reprimands, suspensions or were fired.

Vitti said a district internal investigation did not produce enough evidence for those kinds of punishments in the Ferlita case.

He said the district has no evidence the administrator intended to cheat by giving teachers an essay question that resembled the Florida exam’s essay prompt. It may have been an accident, he said, but it showed a lapse of judgment.

Yeah how dare she show something similar to something she had never seen. Since it was similar well that nails it right there doesn’t it. Later the article says she was in Tampa and some students there had taken the test, oh my, why she wasn’t dragged to the parking lot of the ivory tower and burned at the stake is beyond me.

What are the chances a practice writing prompt can be similar to a test one? I would say a hundred percent if the person in question is competent at their job. You see we want practice questions to be as close to the real ones as possible said everyone who ever gave a practice test before. Instead of demoting her they should have promoted her because it seems like few others at the district office have an idea what they are doing.

As far as I can see the only lapse in judgment she made was coming to Duval where the super has nothing but open disdain towards the staff, just usually its teachers who who have bared the brunt or his mercurial leadership style.

Also from the Times Union:

According to district documents, Ferlita asked other educators in March for possible essay prompts, to give students some last-minute practice at writing explanatory essays. The weekend before the exams, Ferlita received a writing prompt and three related articles from a reading specialist; she emailed them to the district’s reading coaches, suggesting students use them the following Monday for practice.

The following Tuesday, after students took the real exam, a fourth-grader pointed how similar the real writing prompt was to the practice prompt, touching off the district’s investigation.

Vitti said that district officials suspect Ferlita is at fault, even if they do not know how or if Ferlita saw the real test prompts ahead of time. “There was no evidence that she knew about the [real test] prompt before the test,” Vitti said, adding Ferlita visited the Tampa area before Duval took the test but while that county’s students were taking the writing test.

“The perception was that she knew, but she says she didn’t know and there was no evidence that she knew” the real essay prompt, Vitti said. “But it was a lapse of judgment to send the [practice prompt] a day before testing. I no longer feel comfortable with her in that role.”

Ferlita said she did not know about the real test prompt and didn’t write the practice prompt.
As for the timing of her emails to the other reading coaches, she pointed out that the district’s own curriculum guides call for teachers to give final practice essay prompts to students who need them prior to the state exam.

“I didn’t write it; I didn’t tell her what to write; I just forwarded it,” Ferlita said. “After 32 years of a spotless career ... I’m the only one being investigated.”

What did the district want to happen the day before the test, were the kids supposed to lounge by the pool? No the district wants to kill and drill them right up to the moment of the state test but for some reason the super wants you to believe that giving a practice prompt the day before the real test is somehow out of bounds?

This sounds like the actions of a supper who is quickly unraveling and so soon after suspending an admin for breaking up a fight.

The subtext is a powerful one and that’s nobody is safe, probably not even the eight year old this piece started with, well nobody but the super, no matter what he does.

How the local media is letting us down. Public school students data being given to for profit companies.

There is is at the 1:26:30 mark, Becki Couch asks how a charter school would get her son's information. The superintendent replied charter schools have access to genesis the districts computer program.

What's to stop a charter school from using the information to recruit students, oh wait that's what the super goes on to say is already happening. The super goes on to admit the districts own computer program is being used as a recruitment tool for for-profit charter schools to recruit high performing children.

Furthermore since they have this unfettered access what's to stop them from also selling the info they have access to, to other for profit companies. This is like Coke giving Pepsi their secret formula or McDonald's selling Whoppers or Burger King.

The dissemination of  student information is a big issue nationwide and is one of the reasons there has been such a push back against common core. Here in Jacksonville we have both a school board member and the superintendent saying it is happening and the media gives it a collective yawn.

I am befuddle why the media isn't getting this out there.