Sunday, January 24, 2016

Final thoughts on One by One 2016

JPEF: Some Final Thoughts

By the time the second breakout was over, most people had left. I too did not wait for the last wrap-up but left. I plan to attend in the future, but I will leave after the morning sessions are done. I encourage everyone to do the same.

The superintendent, JPEF high-ups, and Board members were long gone by the time the break-outs were over. Enough said?

The greatest failing of the conference was not giving the tables time to discuss the issues and provide feedback. The ratio of lecture to discussion was running about 8 to 1.

If they want to know how to start on time, I can give them some ideas. First, don’t beg people to get to their seats. Start the program. Start it. If that drum corps had marched into the ballroom promptly at 9 AM, people would have noticed. Also, cut off the food 15 minutes before. That clears out the line. With nothing else to do, people will drift into their places.

Finally, and again, we came with a lot to say. JPEF, you didn’t give us one-tenth the time we needed to say it. Do better in the future.

Final post about JPEF 2016 conference

First, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. When it comes to the curriculum guides, especially the elementary ELA curriculum guides, the superintendent expressed in this forum what he previously said in others. So kwitcherbitchin’ teachers, he has committed to what he is doing and will not change course. (This is my analysis, not my opinion about the issue.)

You are in a Catch 22, elementary teachers. If you follow the curriculum and are successful as defined by test results, he will release you from the curriculum and you can do what you want. But then, if his curriculum made you successful (as defined by test scores), why would you change? As for those of you who are not successful, it is because you are not following the curriculum. Just do it!

Recess, anyone?

To place the emphasis on what needs it, I will put it in all caps. Mia Jones, District 14, Florida House of Representatives, warned us: PUBLIC EDUCATION IS REALLY UNDER ASSAULT.

From a woman who is serving on the legislative committees and has a first look at the new mischief Tallahassee plans: PUBLIC EDUCATION IS REALLY UNDER ASSAULT.

From there, I dismiss the pep rally feel JPEF tried to give the conference. We should not get caught up in such nonsense. There are real achievements to celebrate, but there are real battles to fight.

Take the celebration of the graduation rate. What nobody mentioned was the quotes from politicians leaking into the press that they think we are faking the graduation rate and they will do something about it.

Yes, you read that right. And you have concluded correctly. For those people, they know what they want to believe and will not let the facts get in their way. They have the power and will change the facts to fit their belief. Or pocketbook, depending how deep they are in with the hedge funds and charter school lobbyists.

But I digress.

It was a celebration of achievement. That is expected and should not detract from the opportunity to talk with people I would not otherwise have a chance to meet.

Other than the graduation rates, there was little hard data to support the applause taking place. Sorry, but discipline data is subject to great manipulation and cannot be trusted. I offered my observation that black boys are judged more critically than others when it comes to behavior in the schools, but I don’t think anyone listened. Indeed, I found many persons not knowledgeable about various measures such as ATOSS, which at my table was put forth as an alternative school like a charter. I had to explain it was a place where students suspended could go until their suspension was over.

The biggest criticism I can offer is that JPEF, the conference, Dr. Vitti (and by implication, the District) buys into the idea that the TEST SCORE defines all: good schools, great teachers, and the like. Everything in the end came down to how students scored on the test.

Once you realize that premise is false, the entire house of cards collapses. Goodbye, TNTP, you think a great teacher is someone who produces the highest test scores. Stupid. Your entire existence is based on that flaw.

Goodbye, TFA. Well, your people can’t even produce exceptional test scores because, well, first year teachers wherever they come from, are learning on the job and will take 3 to 5 years to gain effectiveness. But wait, your people leave after two years, and now you have the chutzpah to pay them to be coaches to your neophytes stepping into a classroom for the first time. Don’t believe me? Talk to TNTP (ha, ha!)

Everything is premised on the test. We have a job to do: to educate parents and our community about how bad the test is, how badly it is written, how it does not match the content we are told to teach, and how it is blighting their children’s futures and their souls.

Take away the test and the rest is meaningless as far as what took place at the conference. The focus went away from the stated theme: equity in education for all students.

Having said that, I was glad I went and will go again. We teachers are unhappy about how we are cut out of the discussion, how we are not listened to, and are marginalized. Opportunities like this should not be passed by.

Imagine if, when Dr. Vitti asked for teachers in the room to stand up, instead of 20 there were 200. 200 teachers in place, not pushing an agenda, but interacting with the community and telling their stories, explaining why the tests are destroying education and children, and driving the conversation where it needs to go.

JPEF is not the enemy. It pushes initiatives that we disagree with but it also supports policies that we want. We need to take advantage of these opportunities.

JPEF Breakout Sessions

There were 5: Getting Young Children Ready for School; Developing, Retaining and Empowering Great Teachers; Preparing Students for Success After High School; Social-Emotional Learning and Discipline Policies; and Testing & Accountability.

I was interested in 3 of them but could only go to 2: the second about great teachers, which I figured was about professional development; the SEL and discipline; and the testing sessions.

First I went to the Social-Emotional Learning Session. I was disappointed that they didn’t offer any knowledge or assistance. They spent the time explaining what they did and where they did it. While schools need to attend to the social and emotional needs of children, I found their presentation was more of a sales pitch than a sharing of professional knowledge.

We were tight on time. (More on that in my analysis post.) I allowed others to speak in the brief 7 minutes we were allowed a table discussion. When it ended, the volunteer at my table invited me to add my comments, which she would write down (dutifully?) on the Post-It Chart as she assured me the conference organizers would review all feedback given.

I said I needed at least 20 minutes to respond but I did say that the district had secured a grant to place a social worker and counselor in every middle school this year to attend to these needs of our students. I also took the opportunity to provide other feedback about the state accountability system—broken and needs to be recreated from the ground up and how teachers faced pressure to keep on the curriculum guides even when they realized the needs of students meant they needed to stop and take care of their students’ needs.

In other words, teachers can’t keep up with the pace demanded by district curriculum guides and if they addressed the needs in their classroom on any given day, that’s one more day they fall behind while facing pressure for catching up.

Then I went to the session on teacher quality, advertised on how to retain effective teachers.

Before then, during the AM table share-out, we were asked to say one thing we had learned. I made something up because I didn’t learn anything new in the AM (I do keep up), but the TNTP presentation … WOW. I learned how deeply TNTP has burrowed into this district and their mission philosophy has been adopted by the “powers-that-be.”

Before I begin, let me say that TNTP began as “The New Teachers Project.” For whatever reasons that made sense to them, they abandoned the words but retained the acronym as their brand. They are trying to create a new type of teacher, but don’t want anyone to know? Hmmmmm … maybe we can go by the first three letters—they are trying to blow up the teaching profession and to quote Harold Hill, they end with P and that rhymes with T and that stands for Trouble for Teachers.
The mission of TNTP as shared: ending the injustice of educational inequity by providing excellent teachers to students who need them most.  That’s my paraphrasing from my notes and I tried to Google them to give you their exact wording, but somehow that’s not available.

To push their mission, TNTP has 3 focuses (foci for my Latin teacher with whom I enjoy lunchroom conversations most days): rigorous academics, talented people, supportive environments.

In their DCPS work, it is number two that they are focused on. (Yes, I get the double entendre.)

The presentation trotted out the quoted-so-often-it’s-become-a-cliché mantra that the quality of the teacher is the number one factor in student learning. Then they described their work with the district.

Strategy One: Supply DCPS with strong, new teachers. That means helping DCPS hire better teachers than they have done in the past. The Big Idea that they shared was that the earlier a teacher was hired, the better the new teacher quality tended to be. “The best people, they want to know where they are going before graduation. You (DCPS) used to hire teachers in July. All the best candidates are gone by then. If you are a top college student, wouldn’t you find a job before you graduated? That’s how the charters get the best people. They recruit in November of the senior college year. We helped DCPS by getting you to go after them earlier in the year.” Also, “DTO gets first choice. They are allowed to recruit before other schools. That’s how DCPS is getting the best in front of the greatest need.” “The earlier the hire, the higher the quality and we have data to back that up.”

Good goggumugga! I admire how these people can keep a straight face. Now understand that this was my second breakout, and when I arrived, the people were too busy taking selfies with one another to get the second presentation underway. I had to ask someone if I was in the right place. They started 15 minutes late and were totally unconcerned about what they were supposed to do. When they cut their presentation off at the designated time, that they were not finished did not matter.

Thanks, TNTP, for telling us that we did not matter.

Strategy Two: Grow all teachers.

Cliché after cliché. I will spare you the tedium.

Strategy Three: Help schools keep their top teachers.

“Teacher retention is a big issue.”

“It is not a failure to retain teachers; it is the failure to retain the right teachers. Do we really want to keep the teachers who aren’t great?”

They presented nine strategies to retain great teachers that would not cost extra dollars. (So shut up, audience member, who offered the feedback that more money for teachers would keep the best teachers from leaving Duval County for other places that paid more.)

“A high percentage of low-performing teachers remain in the classroom.”

“What we ask: do they have the will or the skill to improve?”

“It takes 11 hires to find another great teacher to replace one who left.”

“We work with districts so they can identify among their applicants what teachers will become great.”

“Recruiting 2nd career teachers who will take a leave of absence from their chosen path to spend 5 or 10 years in a classroom is a great idea. Research has shown that such people produce learning gains over the College of Ed lifelong teacher.”

Let me make it clear. TNTP is driving district policy over the hiring and support of teachers. First, they think that great teachers are born, not made. They think our classrooms are filled with people punching a time clock that don’t give a hoot about their students. They whisper in the ears of our superintendent and his cabinet that if only, if ONLY, they could get the right people, the wicked Witch of the West would be melted, her sister long ago buried under a house, and the flying monkeys sent off to wherever. All would be right in Munchkin Land.

However, I live in Realville. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you want great teachers, you have to develop them. That takes a commitment to authentic professional development that this District refuses to adopt.

(And that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

JPEF conference, AM report, part two

Also available on Education Matters, the blog of Chris Guerriri.

When Dr. Vitti completed his presentation, he sat on stage with a panel moderated by the chair of NE Florida United Way. On the panel were a student, a teacher/parent, a parent/community member.

The student led off and asked the superintendent about teacher creativity in lessons given the new curriculum mandated and monitored by the district.

Vitti response (hereafter V:) We need the curriculum to match rigor to the standards (Florida standards, which are in essence Common Core—this parenthetical explanation is mine, not Vitti’s.) Individual teachers will have a hard time developing lessons on their own that will attain this level. When they teach the curriculum as written, they will automatically reach the level required by the standards. Teachers do have flexibility; teachers do improvise. As time goes on, the District will begin to differentiate among teachers who produced the desired results (high passing rate of FSA) and allow them to amend the curriculum in their classrooms. Teachers who do not do as well will have to follow what is set forth.

Teacher/parent: It is hard to follow a rigid timeline in the classroom. Students don’t relate to the content of the curriculum. Could we have courses that allow students to study their own cultures?

V: There is more flexibility to offer such courses in middle school and high school. Elective courses are needed to keep students engaged.

Parent/Community member: The superintendent is consistent in the message he brings. His answers do not change from place to place as the audience is different. As a member of the Jacksonville community, who hears from many people, I will raise their concern: boundaries matter. Why do some schools have resources while others lack, especially in the DTO schools (DTO schools are those in the special Quality Education for All initiative, essentially the schools that feed into Raines/Ribault/Jackson high schools)?

V: DTO gets substantially more resources than other schools in the District. For example, all DTO schools will have 1 to 1 technology by the fall. (This means there will be one computer for every student.) If parents have a concern that their children do not have a textbook for their grade level content areas, they should call the school, the principal, or me.

P/C: How do we get a school out of DTO? When do we figure it is successful? And will the larger salaries continue for the teachers who work there?

V: DTO schools follow research-based strategies and have reduced bureaucracy to deal with. For example, the regional superintendent, Iranetta Wright, does not report through the Chief of Schools; she reports directly to me. Some DTO schools are performing more highly than other schools in the district. We placed schools into DTO based on their feeder patterns (to Raines, Ribault, and Jackson). Some schools will exit the program. They will receive greater autonomy and flexibility at that point.

Teacher/parent asked about the boundary changes.

V: The proposed changes are across the district. We targeted schools with low enrollment based upon capacity. Our changes are for schools where over 50% of the students have left for other options: magnets, charters, home schooling, vouchers. We want children to return to their neighborhood schools. Increasing the utilization of available seats is important. We are prevented from building new schools in areas of population growth if we have under-utilization elsewhere. We can’t build new schools in Mandarin if we have seats available in Northwest Jacksonville. That gives the charter operators freedom to move into such areas as Mandarin and open new schools when we cannot.

The changes are also related to performance issues. We need to fundamentally restructure schools that are not performing (according to state tests). Saying we will try harder is not enough. Parents are leaving underperforming schools. Some schools are broken. We need to transform them so parents will buy back in and re-enroll their children.

For the most part, principal changes have settled. Things are stabilizing. There will be fewer changes in the future.

I didn’t write down who asked it, but the subject of school grades came up.

V: Give it time. At this moment, you cannot decide upon school performance based upon the grade. The state is undergoing a massive flux given the change in standards, tests, and performance levels. Eventually things will settle, hopefully, and when we again have consistency from year to year school grades will indicate the quality of a school. Until then, look at more things: the school culture, the relationships between children and adults, and the program offerings of the school when making a decision about what school is right for a child.

We were done. They released us to have discussions at our tables about the question of the conference—equity in education.

I didn’t keep notes when a few tables were randomly selected to report to the whole assembly, but I do remember that another table reported an issue I raised: given that we are going to online curriculums, where students do not receive a textbook, aren’t we creating inequity for students whose parent cannot afford a computer and/or an internet connection? Go to the library is not an acceptable answer given the cutback in library hours over the years, especially in the evenings and weekends, and the environment is not the same as a quiet place at home.

JPEF One by One, a report on the January 2016 conference

As the day began, 500 were announced in attendance. The One X One conference, staged by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, kicked off around 9:15 AM with two enthusiastic emcees who had difficulty getting the attendees to get into their seats for the 9:00 AM starting time. But things soon got underway.

This is the first of several posts on the conference. In this one, I will try to be a good reporter and describe the events and what took place without analysis or opinion in the morning. In succeeding posts, I will offer my analysis and describe the breakout sessions in the afternoon.

Our local high schools were on display for particular strengths. Three culinary programs offered a complimentary breakfast: Terry Parker, Frank Peterson, and Raines. They had a competition that was judged by the head chef at the hotel. Terry Parker won and received a small trophy. Westside High presented the colors with their drumline for the obligatory Pledge of Allegiance.

During this time, event organizers tried to get attending students to sit at every table. Each tab le was facilitated by a City Year volunteer. At my table, the CYV got up and corralled two young men who attend the Butler Leadership Academy to join us. Other than that, the only other person at my table was a man who managed a nonprofit service agency providing afterschool services on the Westside. (As I looked around the room, I saw that most tables were not filled. Including the students, we only had 5 out of 10 seats filled at my table. The attendees were assigned to tables by the organizers. )

As the program began, we were welcomed by the Chair of the JPEF Board of Directors. During his brief intro, he cited the increase in the DCPS graduation rate of more than 20% in 6 years. This was the only accomplishment he mentioned.

Mia Jones, state legislator for District 14 in the Florida House, performed the invocation. She begged the indulgence of those present so she could go off her assigned role and thank a retired teacher in the room who had been influential in her life. Then she said, “I was thinking about what I should say as I drove back from Tallahassee last night after being in committee meetings all day. Public Education is really under assault.”

Trey Csar, President of JPEF, congratulated DCPS for achieving the highest graduation rate for African-Americans in 2015. (A lot of congratulations went on during this time: applaud this, applaud that person, high level backslapping needed the attendees to slap their hands together repeatedly, applaud yourselves …)

The theme of this year’s One by One, the fourth JPEF has organized, was equity. Not equality, but equity in that education should meet the needs of every individual student at a level of high quality. Dr. JeffriAnne Wilder, UNF, gave the keynote address, which focused on her research into the the career of W.E.B. Dubois, whose name she pronounced correctly, the staff member from Lenny Curry’s office who introduced her, did not—going with the standard French pronunciation of Du-Bwah, rather than the actual pronunciation of Du-boys, to show how persons of color have been overlooked for their achievements.

Then Dr. Vitti took the stage. He mentioned there was a friendly bet going on in the room whether he could stay within his time limit. (If you have ever been to a Vitti event, you will know that he will will take the microphone, a sip of water from a bottle handed to him, and talk for hours non-stop without taking a breath.)

Dr. Vitti recognized the district administrators and principals who were in the room. Then he acknowledged that they supported the real people who made it work in the classroom and asked teachers to stand up. There were around 20 of us.

The slide show began. Dr. Vitti acknowledged with a laugh that everyone knows he always has a slide show. The slides documented the progress and achievement of the District with data:

·         Increase in graduation rate, which is now closing in on the state average
·         Increase in total number of graduates, which means we aren’t achieving an increase in rate by manipulating numbers
·         Bridge to Success, the drop-back-in program increasing its success rate to 29% from 4%
·         First among urban districts for African-American grad rate
·         First among urban districts for English Language Learner grad rate
·         Rose to fifth out of the seven urban districts for Economically Disadvantaged grad rate (ED is determined by who is on the federal free or reduced lunch program, in which the price of their school meals is subsidized.)
·         Increase of 20 percentage points in the grad rate for students with disabilities (what most of us have traditionally called special education)
·         College readiness increase
·         Number of dual enrollment courses up to 10,229 from 6,871 when he arrived
·         Industry certifications earned by students increased
·         Scholarship dollars awarded to students up to $81 million from $31 million
·         NAEP results
·         Projected school grades
·         DTO teacher quality and investment in technology for those schools
·         Suspensions down, even for Hispanic and African-American students, and the gap in the rate of suspensions for such students vs. white students has narrowed
·         Restorative Justice programs handled 2000 cases
·         Increase in VPK reading and math achievement (measured by testing)
·         Increase in the diversity of school administrators

Dr. Vitti spoke about the challenge of individualizing/personalizing the education experience for each student versus the old way of the factory model in the classroom. He appealed to us to support school choice in differentiating the offerings of Duval County’s public schools to compete in the marketplace with the alternatives.

Following his presentation, Dr. Vitti sat on stage with a panel comprised of a parent, a student, and a community member, run by the head of the United Way of NE Florida.

I’m at 980 words, so I’ll break and post this. Part Two will follow. I don’t want to shortchange you from the panel interaction for fear exceeding the tolerance of blog readers for sheer number of words.