Sunday, January 21, 2018

Knowledge Is Profit, People

Oops, it's supposed to be KIPP: Knowledge Is Power Program.

The Florida Times-Union, having fired up its gaffe machine, can't help itself. After the disastrous Wednesday editorial demanding the sale of the school board building to private developers, it followed up with this:

Florida Times-Union KIPP editorial

Where to begin? Maybe with this: Kids in Prison Program

Or this: KIPP for Miami? “My expectation for KIPP Miami is one that needs to be wildly different from what we have seen in Jacksonville,” [Superintendent Alberto] Carvalho said.

He's referring to KIPP's uneven performance by even the most flawed of measures, Florida's school grades, which must give anyone pause ... well, anyone but the Florida Times-Union editorial board.

I have already established that they are sell-outs to corporate privatizers:

Let's start where the T-U does: that impressive campus you see if you drive by on 5th Street that turns into MacDuff Avenue. That old run-down dog track with a KIPP banner hanging off the roof is long gone. New buildings, great athletic facilities--they even have covered their outdoor basketball courts with shelters so KIPP students can still be outside in the rain.

Amazing what a school can do when it's receiving a million-dollar-a-year, specially earmarked subsidy from the state.

And now they will get capital dollars from taxpayers because they don't have enough money already. Meanwhile, at my school, we are finally getting the peeling paint scraped off the walls and a new paint job. We have waited years for this.

Give my school a million dollars a year and see what we can do with it. Give every school in Jacksonville an extra million dollars a year and then compare. Without that comparison, the Times-Union's editorial board's point is disqualified as there is no valid basis for comparison.

The proof is not 1000 people on a waiting list; it's in the attrition that KIPP experiences like many charter chains. There are many issues involved in the operations of charter schools and many on all sides of the issues have informed opinions. Sadly, it seems that the Times-Union's editorial board doesn't do its homework (pun intended.)

KIPP is good at drill and kill instruction. That produces good test scores at times. But drill and kill will never lead to student understanding and true learning. Teach for a couple years and you will know how to game the system: test prep the students and reap the praise from good test scores. But that teacher who has to teach those students a few years later? They know that the students have little understanding and will struggle to succeed and proceed to more advanced courses.

If we want children to develop those 21st century thinking skills we keep hearing are important, then programs like KIPP are misguided.

KIPP is a zero-tolerance school. They demand compliant children at all times. Every educator knows that compliance does not equate to engagement. KIPP punishes children who do not SLANT at all times: Sit up, Listen, Ask questions, Nod, Track (which means your eyes should be on the teacher at all times.)

That's unrealistic. Children fidget, they scratch where they itch, they laugh when a classmate farts, they turn their heads and look at one another because of the intense social focus of their developmental age, and more important, they are still listening to their teachers even if they look away for a moment.

I wonder how KIPP would handle one of my students. He's extremely intelligent, scores well on tests, but doesn't sit normally at his desk. He likes to curl his legs under his body so he more kneels than sits in his seat. Does that qualify as sitting up? He doesn't track my movement with his eyes. But he's listening. Once I've said it, he knows it. Would KIPP tolerate his non-tracking because he's learning?

As I implement his IEP* strategies, he is showing more success--coming out of his shell to contribute to the class discussion, which is the stated goal of the IEP. Would KIPP consider that successful? Or would they see him as someone not fitting their rigid model and needs to go?

What say you, Times-Union?

Let's move on to the militaristic culture that the editorial celebrated. Veteran serviceman and officers bring a wide, varied, and excellent skill set to new careers when they re-enter civilian life. That makes them well qualified for many positions of leadership with manufacturers, logistical firms, and others.

However, the military culture, necessary for success on the battlefield, does not translate to the schoolhouse. Following orders without question is necessary for a military force to execute a battle plan, operate a large and sophisticated warship in crowded shipping channels, or coordinate a tight formation of jets in the air.

But education ... education is all about questioning and challenging. The question why is one of the greatest questions a child can pose for learning. Yet we are told that KIPP is a no-excuses school. "Because I said so," is the only answer a child will get for questioning as the child heads out of the classroom for a suspension.

The Times-Union editorial board names two leaders: Zach Rossley and Jennifer Brown. They say that "both have had distinguished careers in education after first serving in the military." Yet they don't bother to say what these two have done or why it is distinguished. We have to take their word for it--don't question! No wonder they are in love with KIPP.

Lastly, the T-U cites the support services KIPP students receive as if the traditional school system hasn't been crying for the same services to be provided for their schools. KIPP is only now catching up to what the rest of us know about children in poverty experiencing trauma. But KIPP is superman and the Duval school system is crap.

Shame on you, Times-Union. Shame on you for ignoring and belittling our schools, which have been doing an excellent job under trying circumstances. Shame on you for not studying the evidence that the traditional public school outperforms all others: The Public School Advantage.

You don't do your homework. Wait, you don't do your journalism work; you parrot the line you are handed by your corporate masters.

We're not forgetting your infamous endorsement of Donald Trump. Combined with Wednesday's editorial and a previous one in which you backed the wealthy elite's demand to choose the next Superintendent, this is your third strike.

You are not an independent voice. You are a shill and a once-proud newspaper becomes a rag.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Florida Times-Union + Education Editorial = Major Gaffe

Once again, this equation holds true:

Florida Times-Union + Education Editorial = Major Gaffe

In a recent editorial, the newspaper for Jacksonville, Florida opined that the first and top priority for the new superintendent of schools, yet to be hired, should be to sell the building on Prudential Drive and move its headquarters somewhere else.

Here is the key quote: "But here’s why neither of those two problems should be an obstacle for the School Board anymore:

• Because the building is paid off, it can be marketed without the burden of having to slap an unrealistic price tag on it to cover existing debt.

• The economy is now doing well —and the Southbank area in particular is a hot spot.

In fact, the proposed $433 million development for The District is right next door."

The sale of the school board building, with the required relocation of district personnel, has arisen periodically across the years. Each time the idea has been rejected for one reason: Study after study shows that it would cost the school board AND therefore Duval County taxpayers more money to sell and move than the school board would receive for the property.
The Times-Union offers no evidence or analysis to support its opinion. But hey, private development, why not? Don't wait to count the cost. In fact, they say the sale is the "next logical step" but offer no logic to support the assertion.

They reason "The school district already owns plenty of property and buildings in Duval County that could be used for administration."

C'mon, Times-Union Editorial Board, you can't be that dense. That's like saying you can produce the newspaper at my house because I have an internet connection. Can you squeeze what's left of your writers and editors into 900 square feet? Didn't think so.

To suggest that a headquarters could be plopped anywhere into a surplus school building is ridiculous. Schools are designed to be schools, not office buildings and meeting space. In fact, if it's not a high school, there won't even be an auditorium sufficient for school board meetings.

Also, the school board needs to be centrally located in the county. Did the T-U board bother to look at a map of actual property owned by the school system before sitting in front of a keyboard and blithely type away?

But the best is yet to come. They close with this eye-popper: "A diligent effort ought to be made to sell the building and move elsewhere. In fact, it should be one of the first jobs of the next superintendent."

With all of the challenges facing our school district, the loss of capital funds to charters when DCPS has a large backlog of maintenance needs, the possible closure of three schools in a few months and more to follow next year, the continuing lag in closing the achievement gap, the Times-Union asserts that the first and top priority of a new superintendent should be to sell public assets to private developers.

I'm going to leave a lot of space here. This is the written equivalent of a teacher employing wait time--to give everyone time to think over what was said before responding.

It's not the first time the T-U editorial board has committed a major gaffe. The Trump endorsement comes to mind. They cried they didn't agree, but the owner forced them into it. Well, people of integrity would resign in protest. Hmm, is this why Littlepage retired?

Sorry, Times-Union, but you're not getting away with this. It's not your first gaffe, so it's time someone called you out. True journalists don't dance to the tune of their corporate owners. True journalists are not marionettes jerking according to how the wealthy elite pull their strings. True journalists would never serve the interests of Wall Street and hedge fund managers.

But here we are. A major city newspaper backs the sale of public assets, bought by taxpayers with tax dollars, to serve the needs of private developers.

(BTW, I'm not canceling my subscription. You (T-U) people need to be watched.)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Person of the Year

On my way home from my weekly trek to the grocery store, I wondered who Time had named as its Person of the Year. I couldn't think of a single personality who had dominated the news cycle for a full twelve months that would be a slam-dunk, 'yes, that's it,' choice.

Then I thought of what I believed had dominated the news and I'm about to share my pick. Time did not concur and I have already shared on my Facebook page their choice and article about Time's Person of the Year. Although they chose a worthy selection and I won't quarrel with the #metoo and their analysis of how an outing of the sexual abuse women have suffered since forever has finally received its due condemnation, building over the course of a year, I want to offer something different.

For the 2017 Person of the Year, I offer you ... Robert E.Lee.

Remember that Person of the Year is not someone admirable or execrable or somewhere in between. It is not an honor, but a recognition of that which had the most impact on events during the year.

The long pall of the Confederacy and its shadow dominated news events during 2017 and there is no one person who represents that era and place more than Lee. Indeed, it is rather unusual that a man who has been dead for almost 150 years dominates the present era. But there we go.

The election of Donald J. Trump, under the auspices of Steve Bannon, self-proclaimed leader of the alt-right, has given the neo-Nazis, KKK knights, angry young white men, and in general, the long-festering, hidden racism of too many people, the permission they craved to emerge into the light of day.

Robert E. Lee. Propose to remove a statue and all hell breaks loose.

In scenes reminiscent of Kristallnacht, men march through a college town, bearing Tiki torches from a local big box store (thus ruining forever anyone else's party theme of Polynesia), scream out their hate. Later, in clashes with counter-protesters, one will lose his mind and drive his automobile at high speed into the crowd, killing a woman.

The protest of Colin Kaepernik grew throughout the year as NFL and NBA players increased the numbers taking a knee. It grew to gargantuan proportions when the president deemed himself possessed of the authority to dictate personnel policies to NFL owners, who are private business owners, after all. Oops, he kind of forgot that, didn't he.

Black men protesting the systemic racism black men experience every day of their lives, every moment, they cannot escape it.

The horror!

The ghost of Robert E. Lee hovers over the landscape. As he was told at the end of the war, when he dithered whether he had the authority to surrender and thus effectively end the war without the concurrence of Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government, "You, sir, are the South."

It is the battle flag, not the national flag, of the Confederacy that the neo-Nazis and re-energized knights of the Klan wave.

The battle flag.

The protests will grow. Not only was 2017 dominated by the protest, but it will grow in the years to come.

Everyone will have to take a stand. Do you protest and condemn the killing of innocent black men, some of whom laid on a sidewalk with hands in the air or were retreating?

Do police departments continue in their systemic racism because the fear of a cop that his life is in danger excuses all?

Do we notice that the infant mortality rate of black women exceeds that of all others because of the racism that still carves itself into their flesh, their genes?

Will we say enough?

This news dominated not only 2017, but it will continue to drive events in America far into the future.

For that reason, I nominate Robert E. Lee as Person of the Year for 2017.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Taking a Knee

In a recent posting on Facebook, I shared a news article and this quote from an Indiana politician who filed a bill to make the Indianapolis Colts refund the ticket price to any fan claiming to be offended by a Colt player kneeling during the playing of the national anthem:

“To me when they take a knee during the national anthem, it’s not respecting the national anthem or our country,” Smith said (via the Indy Star). “Our government isn’t perfect, but it’s still the best country in the world and I think we need to be respectful of it.”

My take: The politician says that people should forego their first amendment rights to criticize their government. I found that chilling.

Yet when I shared the story and that thought and quote on Facebook, I received a comment that left me wondering how the commentator could have missed the point. I support the right of black men, even NFL athletes, to protest even during the pregame ceremonies of a football game. It is their right protected by the First Amendment.

The comment: That's right Greg, you said it best. It's not RESPECTING THE ANTHEM AND OUR COUNTRY. It's being DISRESPECTFUL, DISRESPECTFUL TO ALL THE GREAT MEN AND WOMEN THAT SERVED THIS COUNTRY, and many of these GREAT men and women suffered great injury and many died so these pieces of DUNG could take a knee. There are many other great ways to protest police brutality. But all those players were and are too damn DUMB to figure this out.

How could this commenter miss the point?

Then I realized I am missing the point and it goes way beyond the protest of black men about the systemic racism black men experience every moment of their lives in America.

It is about the militaristic quality of our current culture and how the NFL has embraced that, imbuing patriotism, the flag, and the military as an essential part of its entertainment offering, making a sporting game an expression of American dominance and superiority to the rest of the world, seeking cultural hegemony through its attempts to expand across a globe that would rather play soccer and maybe the NFL takes it as the ultimate insult that the world calls soccer the sport of ‘football.’

Our democracy is in danger in its glorification of the military, in its embrace of a kick-ass culture, in its adoption of gladiators as the ultimate heroes.

Already we are creating the military as a special class of citizenship: a few years ago, Florida voters approved a state constitutional amendment that gives veterans an extra property tax exemption that other citizens cannot get.

Don’t tell me that I hate the military. I am grateful to the men and women who choose to serve. But I don’t think that entitles them to special privileges.

And I reject the NFL’s appropriation of a militaristic culture to enhance the entertainment value of its games.

Today I will say that maybe the critics are right: to take a knee in protest is disrespectful of the military because of the background in what the NFL has done in promoting itself as a domestic battlefield in which fans can witness in person the soldiery now glorified.

But that is why this is so very, very wrong.

I remain a Jaguars fan and will continue to root for them in hopes of one day reaching the Super Bowl and bringing this city a championship. But the militaristic aspect in the marketing? The sooner that’s flushed into the sewer, the better.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

One Year Turnaround, Final Chapters

A thorough review of the book, The One-Year School Turnaround, has been undertaken and now reaches its end. It was necessary to examine in depth the book's ideas as its author, James Young, will be in charge of Duval County's most endangered schools.

Young wraps up his prescription for turning around schools by describing the importance of having fun, celebration, and appreciation a part of the activities and environment of the school. It is hard to work in a turnaround school and some appreciation goes a long way to maintaining the motivation and efforts of faculty, staff, and students.

He wraps up by saying to minimize negative influences and maximize positive influences. Basically, what he means is to put the right people in place and let them do their work. Don't interfere, state officials, district staff, consultants, etc. Given the freedom and resources they need, school-based personnel can make the vital differences needed to lift schools.

I wish him well. The environment has changed since he was principal of Ribault High School. If he is aware of the changes in state assessment, state regulation, and state law, as he should be given that he is running a consulting firm, he should be able to produce the improvement needed. I do think he does not have enough time (only four months from December to April) for the three immediate schools, but I suspect he is in place to learn the schools and will receive the management contract in June should any of those schools not make a C under Florida's grading formula.

He will find it harder to get the resources he wants.  Unfortunately, the legislature is determined to strip funding from school boards and there isn't the money available that there was six years ago. Speaking of outside, negative influences, he will not find help from Jacksonville's philanthropic establishment as they have decided they are experts--having never earned education degrees nor worked in an actual public school--and insist on being given the power to set policy and make operating decisions in return for funding.

Talk about needing to minimize negative influences.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

One Year Turnaround, Part Seven

The Self-Motivated Student

In his seventh chapter, James Young writes about his insight that he raised his school from an F to a C (Ribault High), but something different had to take place if the school was to move up from there. Specifically, he recognized that students were putting in the work to learn because he threatened them with loss of privileges: prom, class trips, pep rallies. If his school was to achieve higher, the motivation would have to come from the students themselves.

"In order to achieve our goal, we needed the students to want it and work hard without us pushing them."

Exactly, but forget the school goals. I want students to want success for themselves, value learning for its own sake, and work hard without needing threats of bad grades, et cetera, for motivation.

This is my real job. Students like to ask when they will ever use what they are learning. I have several answers most of which run along the lines of adolescent brain development (math is really good for this) and acquisition of critical and creative thinking skills (again, math is really good for this).

But my real job is to help students find a passion for learning and a sense of where they want to go and gain the confidence that if they work hard at it, they will succeed. It's not what anyone is born with; it's what they do with what they have. AND! What they don't have, they can learn if they are willing to learn and work for it.

Much of what secondary teachers do is help students internalize motivation and values so that they move under their own power, which is what they really want.

Young recognizes that teens are self-motivated by nature: "There is seldom an issue with a teenager being self-motivated to eat, acquire a cell phone, listen to music, watch TV, belong to a peer group, or simply survive." He describes the problem as one of not being motivated to work hard to achieve goals or reach their potential because they don't see it happening in the neighborhoods where they live.

How will he accomplish the goal of self-motivation?

First, he says that teens need to be taught. They don't know what self-motivation is and they don't understand its importance. To accomplish this, as the principal, he met with groups of students during the day to explain, give examples, and encourage.

Second, he had students take a questionnaire to make them aware of their level of self-motivation.

Third, he required every student to write a plan for themselves that included personal and academic goals and strategies to reach each goal. Afterward, each student met with an adult to review the plan to ensure that the goals were obtainable. Having students list strategies to improve their performance had the effect of improving their performance.

Fourth, teachers provided follow-up support and review of progress under the plan. They offered advice for revision if students were not making progress.

Key is to support the students.

This is a chapter I fully endorse. In fact, Young has given me some ideas for my students and I thank him for that.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

One Year Turnaround, Part Six

The series may seem long with one post per chapter (review of the book The One-Year School Turnaround, by James Young), but it's important to understand how Mr. Young thinks and works because we are trusting him in Duval County, Florida, to rescue targeted schools from the sanctions of HB 7069, the legislative bill signed by Governor Scott that shortened the time schools not making the grade (literally, not earning a C by Florida's school grade formula) have to improve or be shut down.

Throughout this section of the book, Young complains that principals are often unaware of their school's data. I can only hope this is a reflection upon work throughout many school districts because I don't know of a single Duval County principal who is not keenly aware of their school's data, who is not maintaining notebooks and analyses, and who is not using the data to support their decisions.

You'd have to be so clueless as not to get the gig at all since principals twice a year must appear before the superintendent and high district muckety-mucks, known as the cabinet, in our weird version of the British Parliament's Prime Minister Questions sessions. They could be asked anything and they had better have data to back up their answers.

Young recommends a principal having an effective data management system, which means people to crunch the numbers for them, and then lots of data chats. Lots and lots of data chats: teacher-student, admin-teacher, coach-teacher, admin-coach, teacher-parent, school-community ...

He says that he did not send report cards home but required parents to come and pick them up. This took place after school and on Saturdays. Parents met with teachers for an explanation of the grades.

I'm all in for parental communication and meeting with parents, but I sense a huge contract issue in his writing. Did he require that teachers work lots of uncompensated hours? If they refused, did he punish them on their evaluations with 'needs improvement' ratings in areas like parent communication, professionalism, and willingness to help the school?