Thursday, November 23, 2017

Requiem Evangelical Church

Time was when the Evangelical Church and the people who called themselves Evangelicals were obsessed with sin. The tiniest sin, even the most minuscule, was cause for guilt and anguish over the salvation of one's soul.

Old men smoking cigarettes, caught in the addiction of nicotine, blamed their lack of character and condemned their souls. Fortunately, that was not scriptural and their faith saved them.

Anyhow, the focus of evangelicals over sin was directed inward. Their outward focus was saving souls or bringing others to the Christian faith.

Historically, the Evangelical Church was one that housed the Holiness Movement, intent on improving one's life to the high standard they found in the scripture of the Bible. They used social pressure to bring about the holiness desired. For example, a woman wearing jewelry was not condemned for a sin, but would be met with questions as to why she wanted to put unnecessary adornment on her body.

Evangelicals were often perceived as moralistic and judging as they tolerated no sin in public officials. Even a whiff of scandal would be enough to lose their support and usually cause the official to be put out of office.

Evangelicals expected their public officials, especially those they elected, to live up to high standards and would condemn indiscretions with vehemence regardless of the consequences, for example, if the resignation of a senator would cause someone with views they opposed to gain the position.

How times have changed.

Perhaps it began with abortion--when the zealotry to protect unborn life led to a disregard for other life.

Perhaps it began with the push for gay rights when Evangelicals vehemently opposed the lifestyle until they found that some of their children were gay.

Maybe it was that the accumulating descent from the middle class as good-paying jobs departed from the land caused many to find themselves threatened with a decline of wealth and status.

Maybe their focus changed from saving others to saving themselves and not in a spiritual sense.

Or maybe they have taken offense that others not as themselves are progressing up the ladder. And like low-status chickens, they will peck hardest at those beneath to keep those underlings in their place.



Maybe Evangelicals are ignoring sin for the promise that their position will be maintained.

You know who we're talking about. A latent racism, long buried, has been rearing its ugly head in the aftermath of the Trump campaign and achievement of the presidency.

The time for politeness has passed although I do not recommend starting family quarrels at the Thanksgiving table. Yet, we must call out what we see taking place: Evangelicals, those who are right-wing conservative Christians, are backing immoral men because those men promise to restore the days when black people had less rights than others.

They should return to their Holiness days and examine their lives, their souls. Until then, it is Requiem for a movement that once drove improvement for all persons throughout the world because it has fallen.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Look for the Union Label

Yesterday I spent my Saturday morning at one of the Strategies for Student Success sessions provided by my teachers' union, Duval Teachers United. Actually, the content is provided by AFT, the American Federation of Teachers, who trains local teachers to run the sessions.

The professional development (PD) session was about the brain and student learning and how to utilize good strategies based upon research to understand the development stages of students and use to maximum effect the current status of their growth to maximize learning.

Hmm, the paragraph probably needs some editing for clarity. I hope you get what I am trying to say.

It was very helpful to me as the session led me to think about acquiring vocabulary in a new way.

There is some frustration in teaching Geometry, which has an abundance of new words, theorems, postulates, etc. to learn, and seeing students struggle to cope with the demand. Now I have new insight: learning new words and associating meaning is a task for the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which we know from research is the last part of the body to mature. Not until age 25 is a human fully 'cooked' as far as having the entire capacity of the body.

Students have difficulty learning the technical vocabulary because their brains don't have the full capacity for it. That's not to say they can't do it, but we have to tailor our learning strategies to their capacities.

For that insight alone, it was worth 4 hours (unpaid) of my time. I have much to research and ponder, but now I am moving in the right direction.

"Look for the Union Label." I may sound silly, but I am seriously impressed with the quality of the PD available through my union as developed by AFT. It is much better than most of what the district provides, and the equal of anything I have ever received even when the Schultz Center was in full swing as the PD arm of the district.

Last Spring, I did another PD through the union: Managing Anti-Social Behavior. It was my first time. I only did it to satisfy the ESE 20 hour requirement for renewing my Florida Certificate. BUT! It gave me good information. I gained insight into why that difficult child I could do nothing with was so difficult. She matched the ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) profile.

I am not a psychologist; therefore, I am not saying she was ODD. But knowing that she matched the profile and I could understand her behavior that way helped me in dealing with her difficulties.

I was and remain impressed by the quality and just plain usefulness of the training available through the union.

Whereas DCPS is a hit-or-miss affair.

Teachers, when you're doing your IPDP (individual professional development plan), look for the union label! You won't find anything better.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Public School Advantage

In their 2014 book, The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools*, authors Christopher A. Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski have this bold conclusion:

Despite what many reformers, policymakers, media elites, and even parents may believe, public schools are, on average, actually providing a relatively effective educational service relative to schools in the independent sector ... while this challenges the very basis of the current movement to remake public education based on choice, competition, and autonomy, our analyses indicate that public schools are enjoying an advantage in academic effectiveness because they are aligned with a more professional model of teaching and learning. (emphasis mine.)

Wow. Perhaps this is why the current Secretary of Education, along with leading 'reformers,' no longer considers the quality of the school important, only that the parents had a choice for their children.

How did the authors reach this conclusion? Their book has seven chapters, each of which carefully builds their argument:

1. Chapter One: Conflicting Models for Public Education. Here the authors describe the differing models we have for organizing education: Politics, in which the principle is local, democratic control of schools, as has existed for much of our nation's history; Science, in which the principle is a quasi-monopoly over education by experts (graduates of educational institutions, that is, teaching colleges) who are presumed to understand theories and evidence of how children learn and are deemed best at providing education; Markets, in which the principle is competition among schools as providers of education and consumer choice.

There is a tension between these models and the Lubienskis note that "Americans have never settled on a single model ... which suggests one of the primary reasons for dissatisfaction with education in this country." Further, they state the basis for the fierceness of the debate surrounding the future of public education, "Any one model cannot predominate without invalidating important values  and upsetting important constituencies associated with the other two competing models."

Finally, they set up their research and report by framing the question about the choices available today and the models from which they originate: [Does] "the higher achievement in private schools reflect greater private school effectiveness or simply the more advantaged family backgrounds of the students who attend these schools"?

It is not an easy question to answer as there are many variables to consider. In the remainder of the book, the Lubienskis sort through them, identify their effect on the data (which is results of NAEP in fourth and eighth grades and ECLS-K, a longitudinal source that tracks progress from kindergarten to fifth grade.)

2. Chapter Two: The Theory of Markets for Schooling. Here the authors describe the economic theories espoused by Milton Friedman, followed and built upon by many others, for the superiority of the market model. They note many criticisms and weaknesses of the model. We begin to understand that the authors are questioning the assumptions underlying the market theory, which they will see if the data supports.

3. Chapter Three: The Private School Effect. The authors review the generally-perceived advantages of private school of greater autonomy and higher test performance, but then deliver the surprising conclusion of studies that show that achievement gaps between students of differing backgrounds are the same among all sectors, public, parochial, private, and charter! It seems that these persistent gaps are not the result of school inputs into instruction, but are related to family background and peers.

4. Chapter Four: Achievement in Public, Charter, and Private Schools. The authors use the NAEP data to isolate the numerous variables affecting the data to see which ones are irrelevant and which ones actually affect student learning. Carefully working through school characteristics, including climate issues and students' attitudes toward school (NAEP includes extensive survey questions to gather data about the students taking their test), then adjusting for socio-economic demographics, the Lubienskis are able to demonstrate that public schools actually outperform all others, including private schools and charter schools.

5. Chapter Five: The Effectiveness of Public and Private Schools. The authors mention the rebuttal to their NAEP findings, which is a theoretical argument since no one has ever presented evidence to support it, that the NAEP is a one-time or cross-sectional test, in which students newly enrolled in other sectors are the worst performing students whose parents searched for an alternative. The school sector has not had the time to work its magic.

To answer that, the Lubienskis turn to a longitudinal study (these are studies that follow a student throughout their years to see what happens over a long period of time), the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Again, they find that adjusting for the many variables that exist in the data, including socio-economic status and the peer effect, that is, what effect does being among more advantaged peers have on a less advantaged child, public schools produce better outcomes than the alternatives. The most influential factor remains family background. The longitudinal study confirms the findings of the NAEP.

6. Chapter Six: Understanding Patterns of School Performance. Having established the better performance of public schools from the data, the Lubienskis now dig into the causes. They look at school size, class size, and school climate and find that the differences among sectors are mostly due to socio-economic demographics. Then they consider teacher certification and professional development. Here they uncover a link between these items and improved achievement when the profesional development is centered on content and student thinking.

They move on to consider the reforms in instructional practices. They find that non-public school sectors, including charters, use the instructional autonomy to avoid the best practices identified by organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and that is a reason why public schools do better. That is, public schools, with far less autonomy, implement the best practices and achieve better results. Other sectors use their freedom to retain outdated practices, such as worksheet drills.

7. Chapter Seven: Reconsidering Choice, Competition, and Autonomy as the Remedy in American Education. The Lubienskis wrap up with a discussion as to why parents would not choose the most economic sector available--the free public school. They note the weakness with economic models in that people do not always act rationally or they have other values that cannot be measured in monetary values. Families may choose a school for safety reasons, not achievement reasons, for example.

They briefly recap the many motivations of the chief actors in school reform, and then turn to three assumptions about education that their results show the evidence does not support: One, public schools are failing (they are not); Two, consumer choice is better (it is not, families do not have access to all the information they need to evaluate their choices effectively); Three, Competition Spurs Improvement (it does not, it spurs competitors to seek advantages through deceptive marketing, political influence, and excluding undesired, low performing students.)

Public schools really are the best schools and, if we want better outcomes for all children, our society needs to begin providing the resources for the schools and the social supports for the families that are needed to overcome their difficulties. It really boils down to a one word explanation: poverty.


*Available from the University of Chicago press,

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The 2017 GOP Tax Plan

Tax simplification has not been attempted since 1986, 31 years ago. The idea is simple in its glamor: Make the calculation of federal income taxes so simple that anyone can file a return on a postcard. Three or four lines is all that's needed:

  1. Here's what I made.
  2. Here's what I owe.
  3. Here's what I paid.
  4. The difference.
Unfortunately, as we discovered in 1986, a tax structure that simple often results in inequities, an unfairness that penalizes some taxpayers and rewards others as individual circumstances differ.

Enter 2017, a year after the Republicans won control of the federal government that has not been seen since the days of the New Deal. They want to make good on one of their major campaign promises: a tax cut.

To accomplish that, they are proposing a simplification plan. They will eliminate the special categories of deductions, credits, and delays (401K plans, for example) in order to double the standard deduction and lower rates.

The trade-off is that what people will lose will be more than offset by the lower level of taxable income and the rate that is applied.

Much will be dropped. Here are two run-downs:
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/11/04/15-things-republican-tax-bills-fine-print-could-affect-you/829075001/

http://beta.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-cruelties-gop-20171103-story.html

While informative, these viewpoints are flawed because both sources opine on the cruelty of lawmakers while ignoring the proposal's basic philosophy that eliminating special categories of tax breaks will benefit all taxpayers. What people lose in tax breaks, they will gain back through lower rates.

Of course, this has yet to be seen. But I would advise people to ignore the emotional pitch and wait for the analyses that will come from foundations and think tanks showing who will gain and who will lose under the proposal before deciding whether to support or oppose the plan.

I myself will lose the 'above the line' deduction for educator expenses; yet, I will have lower taxes if the proposal becomes law. Personally, the plan will benefit me. (Don't take that to mean I am in favor of it. I am following my advice; I am waiting for analyses to understand the full implications of what will come if the plan becomes law.)

Of most interest to me is NOT what is being dropped from the tax code, but what is being preserved or added. For example, a new education savings account for private school tuition for K-12 schools. Money placed into such accounts and then spent for private schools would be tax-free. That is something that will only benefit those who can already afford private school tuition. They don't need the tax break, but hey, as a TV commercial campaign told us long ago, "Wealth has its privileges."

I wonder what else is buried in the thousands of pages of the bill. In fact, I wonder why a simplification bill needs more than ten pages.

If I could cite another slogan, "Enquiring minds want to know."

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Next Superintendent

I'm not likely to get to one of the community meetings in the next two weeks to offer input into the selection of the next superintendent for Jacksonville's schools. Therefore, like every good and greatly introverted person, I'll write about it and share.

Jacksonville's next superintendent should have these characteristics:

1. Humility. An ego-driven superintendent who views the schools as being all about him/her will exhaust our capacity to carry on the hard work of education. It's a daily grind and we need to be led by someone who sees the role as one of service, not being served with an active, unceasing PR campaign in the media.

2. Experience. Not superintendent experience, that would be a good thing but it is not essential for me. The next superintendent should have a minimum ten years of classroom experience, being a teacher, and a minimum ten years of administrative experience in a school, of which at least five years are being the principal. Nothing less will ensure that the superintendent has the empathy and understanding for students, teachers, and administrators who daily engage in the hard work of education.

3. A Broad Philosophy of Public Education. Our superintendent should understand that our schools are more than vehicles of imparting information, training workers, and inculcating compliance to the directions of 'betters.' Public education should never be about the test and the year-long course of instruction geared to prepping children to pass the test. Our city provides a system of public schools to guide children through their developmental stages, encouraging their curiosity about the world, exposing them to new ways of thinking and understanding, assisting them in understanding their responsibilities and privileges as citizens, and helping them find their passions that will carry them through long lives that provide great satisfaction.

Our schools have the task of seeing that our children's needs are provided: food, safety, health, and belonging. Our schools are our communities and are much more than the test scores and school grades that the State of Florida assigns them every year. The next superintendent should understand this.

4. Chutzpah. The next superintendent should not be a 'reformer,' but someone willing to fight for our schools and our children, someone who doesn't confuse test performance with actual learning, someone who will oppose the dictates of the political class when those dictates ignore the actual needs of children because wealth can be gained when privatization takes place.

5. An Understanding of the Neighborhood School as an Institution. A superintendent must understand the significance of a school to its neighborhood, especially neighborhoods that place lower on the socio-economic scale. Our schools are community institutions. They provide identity. They are an anchor in the sea that surrounds them. They are places of safety. Their existence stabilizes their communities from accelerated decline. These schools should not be closed; their families, teachers, and principals should not be threatened with dire consequences. These institutions must be maintained and supported.

6. Beyond a Willingness to Listen, A Willingness to Follow What is Heard. The heart of a superintendent should be that of a servant-leader. Someone who doesn't see the position as an aggrandizement of self, but someone who understands that the superintendent serves all. Someone who doesn't go on listening tours to cut off criticism or curry favor, but someone who takes the feedback and acts upon it. Someone who doesn't stick to preconceived notions, but can actually follow the will of stakeholders even if it conflicts with what the superintendent believes.

7. Acceptance of Democratic Control of Schools. Not democratic as in the political party, but democratic as in the citizens control the schools through their elected school board members. The next superintendent should understand that his/her bosses are the seven board members, not Gary Chartrand, not the other wealthy/political elite in the city, not the Jacksonville Public Education Fund. The superintendent works for the Board of Education.

8. Honesty and integrity. It is difficult for democratic control to be effective when a superintendent is dissembling about such matters as budgets, affirming that funds are in place when in fact the superintendent only anticipates that funds will materialize. The next superintendent must be willing to openly disclose the challenges and difficulties that are faced in addressing school issues.

9. An Understanding of the Learning Process. A superintendent must understand how children actually learn as they pass through the developmental processes of their age and be willing to secure to children those learning environments. Young children must play. Older children need to explore. Indulging curiosity is huge. Adolescents need to be free to challenge and be challenged. Technology is not the answer. The next superintendent should know that computer-based learning programs have their place, but are not a panacea. They are but tools placed into the hands of teachers, who wield them appropriately to guide children in learning. Real books cannot be replaced.

10. A Drive to Get Everything Out of a Teacher's Life That Inhibits Teaching: stupid paperwork done simply because some bureaucrat wants paperwork, scripted lessons, district staff whose only purpose is to inspect teachers for compliance to dictates, the list is endless. The next superintendent should remove the chains and let Duval's teachers show what they can do. It will be amazing.

Here is a link for more information and the times/dates/locations of community meetings: http://www.jaxpef.org/news/what-do-we-expect-from-our-next-superintendent/

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Teach For America, dammit ... 'Cause We're Better

With falling of autumn leaves, we get another defense of the controversial program, Teach For America. The argument falls along familiar lines: TFA teachers get better results, TFA teachers don't leave after two years, TFA teachers are better than long-term substitutes.

The latest serving appeared in the Florida Times-Union Wednesday, October 18:   http://jacksonville.com/opinion/columnists/2017-10-18/guest-column-don-t-make-teach-america-scapegoat-larger-educational

The writer makes three arguments, which I shall answer:

1. Given the teacher shortages that exist, TFA fills positions that would otherwise require substitutes, who don't have the necessary qualifications to bring about student learning.

Stone Eggs: You have a point. If the Yankees, playing the last game against the Houston Astros for the League Championship, needed a pitcher and none were available, I would be a better selection than a 6-year old wunderkind at T-ball. But I suck at sports. I couldn't put a pitch in the strike zone to save my life. This argument really has no merit.

Stop saying we're better than nothing and show how you are prepared, as a TFA recruit with 5 weeks of summer training, are qualified to step into a classroom. Describe that training! What are you doing in those five weeks that makes you the equal of a teacher-college graduate, who has spent four years preparing for the job?

2. 60% of TFA teachers remain in the classroom beyond their commitment, which is better than the retention rate for other teachers.

Stone Eggs: We need a source for this claim. Ooh, I kept reading your column and find that this is your personal experience as you keep up with your friends. Hmm, anecdotal evidence is not persuasive when it comes to citing statistics. Or did you get the percent from TFA, a source that is biased?

And what time period are you dealing with? Are you comparing two-year TFA retention versus 5-year general retention? 

3. TFA corps members get better results than teachers, veteran and rookie, from traditional colleges of education.

Stone Eggs: You claim this because of test results. A test that is invalid and unreliable, a test that is so bad that a 28% rate of providing correct answers is deemed a passing score.

This is where all educational 'reform' falters. You say you produce better test results and pretend that means students learned better under your tutelage.

You are wrong. Could I ask what research you follow? Because everything that I read, done under carefully-controlled studies to eliminate the odd variable, says that test-preparation (and frankly, that is what you are trained to do) produces better test results, but a more poorly educated student.

Attack me if you will. No, I don't get the best test results in my building, much less my district. But my students are desired by teachers in the next year because they are the best prepared to move on, because I work on actual learning and understanding.

That is the irony of the Common Core. It creates the circumstances that produce the exact opposite of what it says it is after: critical and creative thinking.


Now for what you won't say: TFA is a <expletive-deleted>, yes I come from the Nixon era, expensive program.

If I give you all that you claim, you would still fail on a cost-benefit analysis. The latest DCPS contract with TFA (http://news.wjct.org/post/school-board-approves-new-tfa-contract) would bring in TFA recruits at a cost of $6,000 or higher.

That is not money that goes anywhere except into the very rich pockets of Teach For America, which at the end of 2016 held $343,162,094 in net assets. https://www.teachforamerica.org/about-us/annual-reports

Let me put this into perspective: 343 FREAKING MILLION DOLLARS! WHY DO THEY NEED TO CHARGE SCHOOL DISTRICTS THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS FOR EACH POSITION!!

I don't think I need to say anymore. TFA is a pecuniary, self-serving institution that decades ago lost sight of its (unneeded) mission.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Stretch Goals

Way back in the 1960s, IBM was the dominant computer company. Indeed, the industry was known as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: IBM being Snow White and the other tech companies such as DEC, Sun, etc. having such a small market share that they were tiny compared to Big Blue headquartered in Armonk, New York.

IBM was noted for insisting that everyone wear a suit with a white shirt. Also, it was known for setting goals for its sales force that were achievable. IBM believed that people needed to have goals they could achieve to motivate them to work harder as opposed to goals that were clearly impossible, stretch goals, that they could not achieve, that would have made the sales force lose motivation, and not bother to try very hard as it would be impossible to hit the mark.

Ah, stretch goals. I once worked for a man who did stretch goals. I clearly remember the day I sat with him and we looked at the goals for the business that I was put in charge of. I remember the tingling feeling in my body as I thought we could achieve the goals we had set. WE CAN DO THIS! And then the man ratcheted the goals up higher in the belief that he had to keep goals impossible so he could rant and rave at his personnel and they would work harder.

Oops. At that point, I realized he would never allow anyone to feel success and never again bothered myself about what he wanted.

Now we come to DCPS, a misguided school board, and their stretch goals: http://jacksonville.com/news/education/2017-10-05/duval-district-uses-new-formula-set-stretch-goals-2020

(Even Nikolai Vitti got this a year ago when he clashed with A S-J over setting goals that would motivate staff.)

What does it mean to have a new algorithm? Do they mean they developed a mathematical formula that leaves out human judgment?

While the Board celebrates their self-determined excellent work, have they bothered to consult anybody who works at the schools? Principals? Teachers? You know, the people who actually make it happen and know better than anyone else what their school can achieve?

No, they did not. They don't bother because they really don't think the actual employees have any expertise in educating children.

If they did, they would have included principals and teachers in this goal-setting process.

They celebrate themselves because now they have set goals for each school as opposed to setting overall district goals. They think they are the first ones who have done this. Hello, exalted personages who sit on the dais once a month in public sessions: NO, you are not. It didn't work in the past and it won't work now.

What's that? Why? Because you haven't included school-based personnel in the goal-setting process.

Oh, but your algorithm is the best idea since sliced bread? (And I hate it that you force me to use that cliche.)

Just like Coca-Cola's secret formula, the Colonel's secret recipe with its secret herbs and spices, and may I add the student growth formula that you refuse to release to teachers so we can see exactly how you are determining 50% of our annual evaluations, it's a BIG SECRET.

No one can know.

Is that because it is astoundingly, astonishingly excellent? Or is it more of your normal <ahem>? If you refuse to tell people, we will just trust you.

I hate to tell you this, but we don't. Take your stretch goals and go to the gym because they will not have any effect in this school system.

Not until you begin respecting teachers and other school-based personnel.