Friday, August 4, 2017

From Russia With Chaos

Yesterday news broke that Robert Mueller, special counsel investigating the Trump campaign's entanglement with Russian operatives, had convened a grand jury, which enables him to subpoena documents and compel testimony under oath.

So what's up with the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign that has so discombobulated the president?

1. The first issue is the meetings that took place between Trump associates and persons affiliated in some manner with the regime of Vladimir Putin. The character of these meetings and the topics of discussion range from mere contact with a presidential campaign through discussion of issues of interest (adoption, the Magnitsky act--more on that below) to a possible collusion in order to obtain damaging material on Hillary Clinton, Trump's opponent. Collusion becomes an issue because if the Russian operatives are handing over damaging material that is unknown to others, two questions emerge: What did they want in return and was the Trump campaign willing to give it? If the meetings were harmless and innocent, why did the campaign, notably Trump's son and son-in-law, pretend the meetings did not happen, fail to mention them in required disclosure forms, offer different versions of the meetings until at last the truth emerged?

Yet these meetings, as unsavory as it may be for a presidential campaign to consort with a foreign power in order to win an election--to use a hostile regime to put down a domestic foe--these meetings do not constitute an ongoing problem for the president. His base of support is not swayed by the disclosures and it would seem that no obvious legal infraction has taken place.

2. A second issue is the alleged file of possible sexual escapades during visits to Russia. It is not known if such a file, including video, exists. This is another non-issue as it doesn't seem to matter to Trump's supporters. His adulterous lifestyle, including a lack of restraint over his hands that is ingrained into every child--keep them to yourself!--his infamous remark that represented the 2016 election's 'October Surprise,' and his overall misogyny have done nothing to undermine the support he receives from his base, including the Moral Majority, better known as evangelical, conservative Christians. It is a mystery as to why they excuse Trump's behavior, but they do, and these allegations that come with a murky undertone of possible blackmail have been generally dismissed by the populace.

3. A third issue could be the sanctions, which Trump despises, and his desire to ease or end them in order to have better relations with Putin's government. Putin's behavior in the world, the annexation of Crimea, the war in eastern Ukraine, his threats to his neighbors, and more may compel Trump's admiration, but these are political and diplomatic issues, not legal ones.

From here we now depart what is known or can be deduced from reports and enter into the world of sheer speculation. This is only a possibility. Mueller's investigation will uncover the truth.

SPECULATION: One thing really got Trump's goat in the ongoing inquiries and that was when Mueller expanded his investigation to cover Trump's financial dealings with Russian investors. That was when Trump issued a public warning to Mueller that he had better not cross a line, whatever that line marks off.

To acquire and develop his properties, Trump has utilized Russian investors. What if these same investors are the oligarchs targeted by the Magnitsky Act?

For those who don't know, the Magnitsky Act was passed in late 2012 to identify and sanction persons who were known to be involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer investigating corruption. The passage of the act enraged Vladimir Putin, who retaliated by ending adoption of sick Russian orphans by U.S. citizens.

What if Russian investments in Trump properties are tied up in the sanctions and that is at the heart of Trump's desire to ease sanctions? Or worse, what if these investments, maybe not directly by the named individuals but by associates, front men or shadow companies, are circumventing the law and allowing the oligarchs to avoid the restrictions of the Magnitsky Act? What if Trump is allowing his properties to be used to launder these assets such that the oligarchs can get them out of the country?

Only speculation, an attempt to look at all the possibilities for why the Russian investigation is driving Trump bonkers. I don't know that any of this is true, nor do I think it probable, but it would explain a lot.

That is why the Mueller investigation must be allowed to run its course. In the end, if Trump has nothing to hide, he will be exonerated.

Whatever the outcome, I believe the Magnitsky Act will be playing a significant role.

In ending, Trump dismisses the investigation and all allegations as fake news, but he has tried to shut down the investigation in many ways. Congress doesn't agree on much, but it has a bipartisan solidarity in standing up to Russia meddling in U.S. affairs, an approach Trump does not share.

He has the Clinton problem. Remember the Whitewater Affair? For two people who maintained their innocence, Bill and Hillary acted like they were guilty. Same with Trump. If he and his people are innocent, what does he fear from Mueller's investigation?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lost At School (Plan B)

As I work to lessen my pile of professional reading, last week I picked up Ross W. Greene's book, Lost At School. What made it interesting, nay fascinating, was how Greene set aside the usual reasons for why many children struggle in school (valid reasons but beyond the control of school personnel) to focus on what adults could do to meet the needs of children and thereby reduce discipline and learning problems.

He calls it Plan B, so yes, if you must, make a birth control joke and let's get on with it.

The thesis: Most, if not almost all, misbehavior in school is the result of students not having the skills needed to communicate their concerns and needs to adults. Our job is to detect the skills deficit and identify the predictable problems that occur. Once we do, we can develop strategies with the child to avoid future misbehaviors.

For example, a child may have difficulty in handling transitions from one activity to the next. Therefore, it is predictable that the child will act up during the transition from recess back to the classroom, which teachers experience when they bring the class in.

"Challenging behavior most likely occurs when the demands placed upon a child exceed his/her capacity to respond adaptively ... Some kids have the skills to 'hold it together' when pushed to their limits and some don't."

"'Bad attitudes' tend to be the by-product of countless years of being misunderstood and overpunished by adults who didn't recognize that a kid was lacking crucial thinking skills."

In other words, figure out what skills a student is lacking to have an understanding of what gets in his way of behaving and learning. Most kids want to do what's expected, they know what's expected, but some cannot do what's expected because they lack the necessary skills.

"When you treat challenging kids as if they have a developmental delay and apply the same compassion and approach you would use with any other learning disability, they do a lot better."

I'm summarizing a whole book. I'm hoping you will be enticed to get a copy and read it for yourself.

On to Plan B.

Plan A is the familiar adult-imposed 'this is the way it's going to be.' Plan A ignores the child's concerns and feelings, shuts them down if the child tries to express them, and sets out consequences. If you throw chalk, you will go to in-school suspension for three days. Plan A is the 'Because I said so' approach.

Plan C is to ignore the situation. Greene makes clear that many kids have so many challenges that Plan C has to be used in some instances--temporarily--to focus on one or two problems at a time. Plan C is not a permanent, but a strategic prioritizing of what to work on.

Plan B is proactive (normally). In Plan B, the adult meets with the child to discuss a problem, a specific, unsolved problem, that is causing the child difficulty.

The meeting must be voluntary, that is, the child is given an invitation that may be refused. Many times, they do refuse the initial invitation for various reasons, including I'm in trouble, I don't care (but why doesn't the child care?), and It won't make any difference.

But once the child agrees to meet, the first step is for the adult to present an observation and to ask the child about it. "I notice you have trouble playing with Jamie during recess. What's up with that?" It is crucial not to be judgmental in this phase. The adult's concern may be bullying, but notice that the adult does not accuse the child of being a bully. The adult merely makes an observation about a problem in two children getting along.

It is important to continue in the first step until the adult believes that the child's concern is fully understood. "Ah, you make sarcastic comments about Jamie because if you do not, you think others will make bad comments about you. If you let Jamie decide a rule about your play, then you believe other children will think they can tell you what you must do."

Only when the adult has a full understanding of the child's concern does the adult place his/her concern on the table. "While you may want others to leave you alone, my concern is that you need to learn how to get along with others in your play. This will be an important skill when you are an adult and have to work with others."

The final step in Plan B is to come up with a plan that is mutually satisfactory and realistic.

This is not a magic solution, a try it once and all is well philosophy. It takes time and persistence. There will be problems and missteps along the way. But a philosophy of discipline that incorporates this approach can turn around children's lives, one by one, then a classroom, then a school.

I am going to commit to Plan B in the new school year about to start.

BTW, isn't this a major complaint of Duval teachers in regards to the recently-departed superintendent? His approach was Plan A, every day, all the way, in regards to teachers. He had no patience to listen to teachers' concerns and then to work with them to find mutually satisfactory solutions.

If we don't like being on the receiving end of Plan A, why would we put children there? No one likes a 'my way or the highway approach.'

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dear Betsy, About That Status Quo

The Honorable (sic) Betsy Devos
United States Secretary of Education
Department of Education
Washington, D.C.

Dear Betsy,

     Welcome to the second of my letters. While you give much to discuss regarding the state of public education in the United States, you really stirred the pot when you accused your detractors and dismissed the protesters in Denver as 'defenders of the status quo.'

     While you remain unaware of much that has taken place in education over the last twenty years, (I would have said ignorant but that word has taken on pejorative tones; I want this to be a respectful communication,) surely you are aware that the status quo is not the educational system of the 1950s, where parents sent their children to public schools, parochial  schools (that is, Catholic schools), or private schools to which they paid the entire tuition.

     By the way, Betsy, as we get rolling, notice that with those three options parents have always had a choice and a free market of sorts has always existed. In fact, without government vouchers, sending a child for all except the very wealthy involved a sacrifice on the parents' part and schools had to keep tuition affordable. That free market was working, including the viable option of sending children to the local public school.

     But the status quo of 1957 is not the status quo of 2017. Much has changed. None of your critics are defending the status quo because the marketplace has added government-subsidized options (emphasis mine). Indeed, as an aside, it is a surprise to me that such a free-market advocate as yourself has one policy in mind: expand government subsidies via a federal voucher program funded by a diversion of Title 1 dollars (again, emphasis mine).

    Let's examine the status quo in Florida, whereby parents can access the following education options:


  1. One of over 652 charter schools according to the Florida Department of Education (http://www.fldoe.org/schools/school-choice/charter-schools/). That was the 2015 - 2016 school year and the number grows annually.
  2. Florida Virtual School, an online option for students, including 62 district franchises associated with FLVS.
  3. Other virtual schools that are allowed by Florida law to begin operating in the state. (BTW, as an assist to virtual models of education, the legislature requires high school students to take at least one credit-bearing course via an online option.)
  4. John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities. This is a voucher program that gives parents up to $20,000 to enroll their child in a private school that meets their child's needs.
  5. Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income families. These are the ones you tout, the children you claim deserve the same option as children from wealthy families to attend quality schools. In the school year 2014 -2015, parents could get a voucher worth $5,272. For comparison, one such quality private school in my city (Bolles School) has annual tuition of $24,000 for a middle-school aged child. Providence School for the same age is $11, 782. Episcopal High School charges a tuition of $22,500 for a middle-school child.
  6. Personal Learning Scholarship Account Program for children with specified, severe disabilities. An educational savings account-type program, it's worth $10,000 a year and parents can use the money for diagnostic and support services.
  7. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Students in public schools labeled as 'failing' may transfer to another public school.
  8. Private schools.
  9. Home Schooling.
  10. Traditional Public Schools, including magnet programs, choice programs, vocational programs, and in high school, AICE (Cambridge) diploma, IB diploma, and dual enrollment programs.
Source: http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/5606/urlt/2015ChoiceOptionsBook.pdf

    This is the status quo, Betsy, and no defender/advocate for public education, including your critics, is defending it.

     There isn't sufficient space in this post to critique the many options on this list and explain why they should not be subsidized with taxpayer dollars. However, the list is sufficient to demonstrate that your dismissal of public school advocates is wrong, dead wrong. They criticize and work to eliminate this status quo.

     You don't like this status quo, either. You really don't like charter schools and they have figured that out. It really isn't a problem for them; eventually, they will convert to voucher schools. You want to eliminate #10, traditional public schools and for the most unknowing of reasons: you entertain a stereotype of teachers that is false. Like the Israelites of old, though, you worship this golden calf in the desert because you believe it will bring investors the meager gold that poor and middle-class families have left after 25 years of a diverging economy that is eliminating the middle-class.

     You are Aaron, asking for the gold to build this idol of a privatized school system funded by vouchers.

      You cry that poor children deserve the same quality schools that wealthy children can afford.

      You push taxpayer-funded subsidies to give those children that opportunity because their parents cannot afford it.

      You weep in front of your idol and call upon others to do as you say.

      Because low-income parents cannot afford the tuition. Because they are low-income.

     Has it never occurred to you, wealthy Amway billionaire, investor and owner of many business, that you could solve that problem yourself without needing the government? The solution is simple.

     Pay your workers a living wage, one that will sustain their families, without the need for government subsidies. Then support laws that force all employers to do the same.

     Really, Betsy, it's the least you could do ... if you really care about the children.

Very truly yours,

Gregory Sampson

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Recess

Last week the Florida Department of Education decided to issue guidance to district superintendents about the section of the omnibus HB 7069 that recently took effect that mandated at least 20 minutes of unstructured, free play for elementary age children in traditional public schools.

http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20170718/florida-schools-can-hold-recess-inside-classrooms

Context is everything, as even the Department would acknowledge since it puts emphasis on testing, every year, the ability of Florida's school children to decipher context clues on the FSA reading exam.

It is context that guides my reaction.

Here is the salient paragraph: The logistics of implementing the recess requirement will be determined by each local school district. This includes, but is not limited to, the development of master schedules, designation of spaces that will be utilized for recess and establishing weather guidelines to ensure student safety. This law does not specify the location where recess must be provided. The recess minutes could be provided indoors or outdoors as determined by local school district and/or individual school leadershiphttps://info.fldoe.org/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-7967/dps-2017-85.pdf

The memo also specifies that recess is "supervised, safe, and unstructured free play." Notice in the above paragraph how it suggests (encourages? requires?) districts to develop policies and rules for recess.

My initial reaction to reading the Herald Tribune posting was a wondering why we don't take the common sense route that the adults running elementary schools have the common sense to know when it would not be appropriate to take children outside for recess. Why doesn't the Florida Department of Education trust the judgment of principals and teachers?

Why do rules and procedures have to be established? Take the children outside and let them play unless it is raining or too hot.

Duh ...

That led to wondering why the Department made the statement that recess does not have to be outside. Most elementary schools are not set up with play areas to allow children to exercise that unstructured component of the law's requirement. What would supervised, safe, and unstructured play look like inside a classroom?

On to the suspicion that what the Department was doing was to tell superintendents to ignore the law if they wanted. Context is everything. Under what context is the Department issuing this memo?

But a second reading and a scrutiny of the source document suggests I was overreacting.

I await your thoughts (although I'll stick by my statement that we really don't need advice from the department about when it is inappropriate to go outside. Our teachers and principals are smart enough to figure that out without guidance, policies, and rules.)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Philanthrocapitalist

Philanthropy: altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement, usually manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons, by endowment of institutions of learning and hospitals, and by generosity to other socially useful purposes.

     (altruistic: unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others.)

--Definitions from dictionary.com

Philanthrocapitalism: Philanthropy that is marked by a belief that charitable work should be done according to business practices, is best performed by a business, and that the donor should control the policies and decisions of the philanthropic object, namely, the educational institutions, hospitals, and other relief organizations.

A century ago, the great industrialists (Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, and others) established foundations for their philanthropy. They did not try to choose the recipients for their largesse or direct the distribution of funds; they hired experts in the areas of their concern who best knew the needs and how to meet the needs.

In our time, we have seen the rise of the philanthrocapitalist. The great industrialists (Gates, Zuckerburg, Jobs (via his widow), and others) have established foundations for their philanthropy, but insist upon maintaining control of their gifts and demanding control of the recipients through conditions imposed upon the gifts. They believe in the free market as the ideal environment for all charitable endeavors: education, health care, and social welfare. Where the profit motive is absent, they introduce it. They raise a banner of individualism and choice, maintaining that those in need are consumers who should make the choice, but by the direction of their efforts, they often leave those in need with few choices.

The movers and shakers of our burg have chosen the philanthrocapitalist model through which to benefit our community. While the likes of Chartrand, Weaver, and others do not have the billions of the Silicon Valley tycoons, they do have enough wealth to wield a large influence over the city of Jacksonville, Florida and to impose conditions on their gifts that must be met or they will take their marbles and go home.

How else to interpret the letter that Gary Chartrand penned through the Quality Education for All board and was joined by the chair, Wayne Weaver (original Jaguars owner), Lawrence Dubow, Cindy Edelman, Matt Rapp, and David Stein?

“If you are not willing to invest in those programs that have proven successful, we must consider that this bond has been broken and we will have no choice but to step back our part of this arrangement until a new understanding can be established.”

What distinguishes the philanthrocapitalist from the philanthropist is the insistence upon dictating policy and program despite their lack of expertise. Of the individuals named, only one, Cindy Edelman, has any actual teaching experience and that was 12 years at The Bolles School, an elite, private school on the Southside. I wonder how well Ms. Edelman would fare if she was teaching art at a public school, say Highlands Middle, Northwestern Middle, or Westside High? I wonder if she truly understands the issues and challenges of our public schools.

But they know best and they will dictate to the school board what must be done if they will keep donating and, to make their point, they have held up their five million dollar check.

This is philanthrocapitalism, charitable giving with an agenda, and an unwillingness to look at new circumstances.

This is philanthrocapitalism, the belief that expertise in one area of life makes the donor an expert in all areas of life, unwilling to trust, even condemning, those who have spent their lives in arenas like education.

This is philanthrocapitalism, the belief that struggling, impoverished families in the Northwest corridor should share the values, opinions, and behaviors that mark the wealthy and privileged. And if they don't, they are judged and deemed wanting.

I can imagine them pledging $50 million to improve the neighborhoods along Moncrief Road, but wait, the young men let their pants sag, never mind.

(Was that too sarcastic?)

Duval County Public Schools (Jacksonville, FL) is facing a triple whammy this year: Florida law that does not allow them to raise property tax rates, HB 7069 that is diverting property taxes from the needed maintenance of public schools to the capital needs of charter schools, and a 12 million dollar deficit left by the golden boy, now running Detroit Community Schools, that the QEA board would not want mentioned.

The philanthropist would say, "Tough year. Let me help." These philanthrocapitalists say, "Don't talk to us about your problems. You have to chip in or else." Students say, "How come there's no toilet paper in the restroom?"

Sorry, kid, we have no money. Ask Wayne, Gary, Cindy, Matt, and David.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Twump-Tweet

Yes, it's time to coin a new word for our troubled, challenging, but very interesting times.

You may not like the current president, but face it, he has invented a new sub-genre for the written word: the Twump-tweet.

It has its own literary structure, which was analyzed and identified over a year ago: usually three sentences or phrases, sometimes only two, the twump-tweet features a statement of (dubious) fact, a terse explanation, then a one or two word ejaculation of judgment.

Slate gives it a run:  http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2016/02/donald_trump_is_the_best_at_twitter_here_s_why.html

Moreover, a simple Google search will turn up dozens of templates where you can compose your own fake twump-tweet.

Here are some actual twump-tweets:

  • Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people, but their low rated show is dominated by their NBC bosses. Too bad!
  • Fake News CNN is looking at big management changes now that they got caught falsely pushing their phony Russian stories. Ratings way down!
  • I've helped pass and signed 38 Legislative Bills, mostly with no Democratic support, and gotten rid of massive amounts of regulations. Nice!
  • I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
  • The Fake News Media has never been so wrong or so dirty. Purposely incorrect stories and phony sources to meet their agenda of hate. Sad!

  • I could go on, but you get the idea. Frankly, I can stomach only so much scrolling through Trump's twitter feed.

    However, 'a door once opened can be walked through in both directions.'

    It's time to out-tweet the Trumpster. Let's get busy. We could go for parody:

    • Meeting with Putin at the G20 to deliver the mortgage payment on my properties. Relief!
    • Gates et al. say robot workers will be ready in 24 months. No need for actual humans, no need for health care. Tax relief for billionaires.
    • Fake news says I bragged about sexual assault. Oops, that was real news.
    But the direct approach will be more effective:

    • Afghan schoolgirls' robotics team denied entry to US for world competition. Why does this insecure Prez fear them? Sad.
    • Minion-coconspirator Devos hires Wall Street exec to manage student loan portfolio. Manage? Rather, collect through any means possible. Criminal.
    • Devos rips Title 1 funds away from schools to line the pockets of her billionaire friends. Corruption extraordinaire.
    • Trump lashes out at media, conducts feud. Hatfield and McCoys weren't this bad. Pathetic.
    • Bush 43 sought to restore honor to the office. Obama upheld same. But now? Pig trough.
    You get the idea. Let's get trending. :)

    Postscript: the twump-tweet. I am rolling the r into a w a la Baba Wawa, the brilliant Gilda Radner impression we watched in the 70s on Saturday Night. Trust me, the alliteration works.

    Wednesday, June 28, 2017

    ACA vs. AHCA vs. BCRA

    If it wasn't so serious, we would mock it as an overhyped pro wrestling card for a local event: Who's gonna get the smackdown? We know who: those relying on Medicaid for health care coverage.

    Progressives, don't get excited and don't get discouraged, Conservatives. We are watching a negotiation and chances are good something will pass Congress for the president's signature.

    Analysis of what has happened to date mixed with predictions and a read on the key players:

    1. Donald Trump will sign whatever is put before him. He is not interested in the details as long as he can tweet that Obamacare is repealed and he has kept a campaign promise. Any Republican legislation that overturns the additional taxes of the ACA and ends the individual mandate will be seen as the repeal promised for six and a half years.

    2. Depending on the final version, the overhaul of federal law governing health care coverage will cause 22 to 26 million people to be uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

    3. The failure of the Senate to have enough votes to pass a 'motion to proceed' to debate mirrors the difficult process the House had in passing legislation. As in the House, moderate Republicans and hard-line Republicans have conflicting goals: preserve expanded Medicaid coverage for the former and curtail Medicaid costs for the latter. We cannot have both.

    4. When it comes to Medicaid, the hardliners are pushing for more than repeal of expanded eligibility. They seek to enact, for the first time, limits on how much the federal government will reimburse states for Medicaid expenditures. They seek to provide something akin to a block grant and to disclaim responsibility for the consequences--they want to say the states decided how to cut back on coverage.

    5. Key senators who were in the group that drafted the Senate legislation have refused the current version; this is why the Majority Leader had to delay the procedural vote. The legislation has to be revised.

    Thus, it is far from certain that the bill is doomed. It is far more likely that the Senate will go the House route by changing the draft to accommodate the hardliners and attempt to force the moderates to go along.

    The strategy is far from certainty of success. The Senate majority is far slimmer than the House. But to date, only two Senators have said they will not support a bill that drastically curtails Medicaid coverage.

    6. Expect hard bargaining to go on throughout the holiday weekend and the Senate to proceed to debate and a vote the second week of July.

    7. Something will pass.

    8. And the 2018 campaign will commence. Democrats are in retreat from their losses, but they take heart in this: in our era, every attempt to pass great change in American's access to health care has resulted in a change of power in Congress.

    9. The end of the individual mandate is the most problematic part of the Republican effort to overhaul the nation's health care law. Neither the 30% extra charge of the House nor the 6 month wait period of the Senate (they almost didn't do anything to penalize those who will wait until they are sick to sign up for coverage) are great enough to disincentivize the healthy from being uninsured until they are sick and dropping insurance if they become well.

    It will be the end of health care insurance, period. No private enterprise will be able to sustain a profitable business model under these circumstances.

    10. So in the end, the Republicans may be achieving the goal of progressives (unintentionally) of course. For when the health care insurance market dies, there will be no alternative but for the federal government to provide single-payer coverage.

    Friday, June 23, 2017

    Seven-OH-Six-Niner.3

    We are on CONTENT, why HB 7069 is the educational equivalent of the Titanic pulling out of Southhampton, England on her maiden voyage.

    3. People will argue that the bill did provide a fund for struggling schools to tap to implement the changes needed to get them out of failing status.

    Yes, the bill allocated $2,000 per student for 25 struggling traditional public schools. But the list of schools that must close under this bill is over 100. Winners and losers, dog eat dog world, competition is the end all and be all of human existence, the Darwinian struggle for survival, that is how our legislative leaders, with the complicity of the governor, view the world and structure our civilization.

    Thus, 100 or more schools need extra resources, we'll toss out scraps for no more than 25, let the dogs fight.

    Hmm, if this analogy was real, these legislators would be put in jail because dog fighting is illegal.

    But we're only talking about human children.

    4.

    5.

    6.

    7.

    (the above blank space is to let that last thought sink in.)

    There is more to talk about, always more, but we need to be brief; let's move on to EFFECT.

    Charter schools are resegregating our schools and by implication, our society.

    Don't tell me charter schools are giving African-American children a chance to escape failing schools in poor neighborhoods when they arrive in charter schools that are almost all black. White children are leaving public schools for schools that are almost all white. 'Choice,' when aggregated in its totality, is resulting in a bad choice.

    Separate but equal is inherently unequal. Read it here: http://americanhistory.si.edu/brown/history/5-decision/courts-decision.html

    While you have tired of the baby boom generation and wish us to pass into retirement and silence, here is where we must speak up.

    We are the generation of desegregation.

    We are the generation of federal troops ordered to protect the access of non-white children to the desegregated schools to which they were assigned.

    We are the generation of forced busing to move children around cities and school districts to achieve the goal of desegregation and equality of education for all.

    Here is our testimony: IT WORKED.

    We learned how to relate to people not like us. We learned to form friendships, to play together, to learn together, and, as time moved on, to work together. We learned to live together. Some of us learned how to love one another.

    But the legacy charter schools are forming is that they are a vehicle to overturn that. We can go back to the pre-1954 society under the illusion of school choice.

    The fact that charter school advocates are being used as proxies in the real undoing of integration through the promotion of school vouchers and the privatization of all schools ought to give everyone pause.

    Seven-OH-Six-Niner.2

    The third category of protest by educational advocates about the new law known as HB 7069 (Florida) is CONTENT.

    Despite some good provisions, such as the proviso that mandates 20 minutes of recess for elementary students (well, not if you're in a charter school, those 'public schools' are free to ignore child development needs for movement, free play, and socialization in favor of drills to get that last math answer correct on the TEST ...)

    Don't argue that traditional public schools and charter schools are on an equal playing field. They are not.

    Even though state tests do not begin until 3rd grade, even kindergarten students face standardized tests from districts, who feel they cannot wait for 3rd grade to train the little buggers how to get them the scores they need ... thus the disappearance of recess ...

    It is not a victory, but a condemnation, that a state law is needed to force administrators to meet the needs of children. It should cause you to question what has gone wrong with the system.

    Not the system of public schools, but state legislators who act out of ideology and ignorance.

    The system of adults who now seek to serve their survival interests by preserving their positions, influence, and salary, rather than doing what's right for children.

    Yes, good people, we are dealing with a systemic problem that goes beyond individuals, neighborhoods, and schools. (Hold that thought.)

    Back to the CONTENT.

    1. School districts now have to share capital dollars, raised through local property taxes, with charter schools. For a district like Duval, where most of the buildings are 50 to 100 years old, the loss of capital dollars to repair and replace these buildings is a challenge. We do not want to become like Detroit, which did not have the money to replace broken windows and the birds flew in and <ahem>ed on the floors and walls. They became so deficient of funds they could not pay a janitorial crew to clean it up. Roofs leaked. Mold grew. Health was imperiled.

    The promise of charters has been that they are so much better that they can do it for less and get better results. Why now are they demanding every single dollar they can suck away from traditional public schools? They can't do it for less and they are not doing it better. More or less, the charter sector as a whole only matches the results of public schools. For every charter you can produce that excels, there is one that does much worse. Studies that are not produced by self-serving bodies, and that includes the Florida Department of Education, show that.

    That's before we begin the debate over judging schools by one narrow measure: standardized testing.

    Suffice it to recognize that school systems have less capital dollars to maintain their facilities.

    That is one HUGE problem with charter operations and states. What states are trying to do is establish and run multiple school systems with the resources sufficient for only one.

    2. Schools of Hope. In a few paragraphs, I will argue that you cannot conclude these schools are failing from a flawed, once a year test. We have many more expectations of our schools than test performance. This is one of the many ways the public is being bamboozled by billionnaires, hedge funds, and politicians.

    What hope do these schools offer? The legislation specifies charter chains like KIPP or (if not intended specifically) Eva Muscowitz's New York Success Academies.

    But how do these schools achieve their 'success?' Is it through 'Got To Go' lists such as the Success Academies were  caught keeping? https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/30/nyregion/at-a-success-academy-charter-school-singling-out-pupils-who-have-got-to-go.html

    Is it through 'Teach Like a Champion' techniques and rigid student control methods such as demanding that students keep their eyes on the teacher at all times (tracking) or that they must rigidly sit in their chairs (SLANT)?

    Will these Schools of Hope offer hope by counseling out troublesome students as charter schools are known to do?

    Will they offer hope by addressing the trauma of violent households and neighborhoods that these students experience every day--so much so that they consider that the normal human experience?

    Will they offer hope by arranging for wrap-around student services? Will they provide the support as IEPs demand? Or will they put these students on a Got-To-Go list?

    And what makes people think schools are failing because of a flawed, once-a-year test? Florida does not measure student learning and growth. The state only provides a determination of proficiency as defined by debatable standards that ignore child development principles. Any growth measure from the state is really a proficiency standard in disguise.

    Who will take on these Schools of Hope? Only those who can pick and choose students and watch the rest of them get on buses to go elsewhere in the school district. Charters know better. That is why they offer the same excuses <ahem> reasons as public schools for why they don't get better results in impoverished neighborhoods.

    ---Intermission-- I am keenly aware of the internet attention span and it is time to close this post. Enough words. I will carry on in the next.

    Seven-OH-Six-Niner

    Preamble: A FB friend was debating with a FB friend and tagged me, like a pro wrestling match, to take over. I make it a point to stay out of FB arguments, as the space for comments, and readers' internet attention spans, are not sufficient for a full and respectful exchange of views. Thus, the dreary tendency of social media debates to descend into arguments and then name-calling. (Not saying that would happen here.)

    Disclosure: I teach secondary mathematics in a traditional public school system, currently assigned to a magnet high school. I am an advocate for public schools (and that does not include charter schools, however much they want to call themselves public schools--because they are not) and belong to several advocacy groups.

    Full disclosure: 7069 is a prime number. And with that math geekiness moment out of the way, I will not use snark in this post. Many bloggers do. It seems to be expected of the medium but, unfortunately, that at times gets in the way of a respectful exchange of views.

    HB 7069 was passed in the overtime portion of the Florida legislative session in Spring 2017. Although it incorporated the carefully crafted compromise between the chambers and parties, the compromise did not include the legislative priorities of the House Speaker, Richard Corcoran (R--Land of Lakes). Speaker Corcoran took the compromise bill on the last day of the regular session (the last day it could be passed) and put out a new and unexpected budget bill (HB 7069) that incorporated the compromise but also put in his demand for a new charter sector called 'Schools of Hope.'

    Because he made it a budget bill, the chambers were able to consider it during the overtime days and pass it.

    Thus, as we consider why education advocates and professionals denounce the bill, we arrive at the first category of protest: PROCEDURE.

    The Florida legislature is notorious for spending 58 or 59 days of its regular session, first in committee, considering draft legislation, and then in session, debating and voting on legislation that passed through all relevant committees, allowing bad bills to die, only to find that in the secret budget negotiations of the final days that REJECTED BILLS show up, bad policy as considered by almost all, in a budget that must have an up or down vote.

    Thus, bad legislation bypasses the democratic process to be enacted into law by a few, key leaders including the Speaker of the House and the Senate President.

    This is what happened with HB 7069. The provisions insisted upon by Corcoran had already been rejected. His tyrannical move at the end of the regular session to put those rejected policies into a budget bill and force its passage is an abuse of the democratic process.

    (As a matter of recent historical note, that is how Florida also got the Best and Brightest bonus program. Rejected by committees, its backer, Eric Fresen, got it put into the final budget.)

    The second category of protest is CONFLICT OF INTEREST. (I am being nice by not labeling this category corruption.)

    Richard Corcoran's wife is the founder of a charter school: Classical Prepatory School. His ally, Manny Diaz (R--Miami), collects a six-figure salary as the Chief Operating Officer of a charter: Doral College. Michael Bileca (R--Miami, also Chair of the House Education Committee) is listed as the founder and Executive Director of a charter: True North Classical Academy. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/fabiola-santiago/article151418277.html

    Thus, even before we can begin to debate the merits of the bill, we have to recognize the self-serving interests of the men who forced it through.

    Maybe I should label this category 'CORRUPTION.'

    In better days, such men would recuse themselves from the vote and argue that it passed on merit.

    But they don't bother with those niceties anymore. Not in Florida, anyway.

    Sunday, June 18, 2017

    Are You More than a Test Score?

    It is a traditional practice of mine to ask my students to reflect on their learning, their struggles, and their experience in my classroom at the end of the year, including questions about what I did well and what I did poorly. Of course, I disguise those questions to keep it constructive: What would you keep? What would you change?

    This year, I also asked my Algebra 2 students if they were more than a test score. Here are some of their responses:


    • Yes, not just a test score, but more than a GPA.
    • I know that I am more than a test score, but I still struggle with accepting a bad score as I've been raised to strive for the highest grade and that a bad grade isn't acceptable.
    • Yes, I am more than a test score; test scores don't define who I am.
    • I am more than a test score because a test can only measure your ability to follow directions and comprehend. It doesn't measure your knowledge or the ability to learn.
    • Yes, because mostly tests are just pieces of paper. Education is mostly just how well a person uses their knowledge. Not how high of a number they got.
    • Not at this point.
    • Probably not.
    • I think test scores define and show what you know, so if you do poorly on the test, you most likely are doing poorly in the class.
    • Yes, I am someone who wants to learn.
    • Yeah, of course, but some teachers don't see it that way.
    • Yes. I think tests should be informational because students have bad days on test days. That goes with any ACT, SAT, or final. I am an intelligent young man who can study hard and learn.
    • No.
    • Test scores don't really define anything but the information that you remember.
    • Yes, I am not a good test taker.
    • Yes! I am myself. A number will not determine who I really am ...
    • Yes, I am more than one test score. I tend to go blank on tests when in reality, I know the info and have paid attention in class and have done all the classwork and homework. A test score is just a number. It tells nothing of a true person's personality, work ethic, intelligence, and more. Therefore, it should not define us.
    • Everyone has varying abilities, and some abilities cannot be measured by filling in bubbles on an answer sheet.
    • Throughout my years of hardships in school, nothing and I mean nothing has brought me down more than having low test scores. I truly believe I am much more than a test score. It does not define who I really am.
    • Yes, I'm a student whose mental ability shouldn't be determined based off of a test from two years ago. But the school board only sees us as test scores. They see us as that because they want their schools to be seen as the ones that can help your child succeed in life, but the truth is that they only care about your test scores, not if you have the skills to make it in life.
    • Yes, I am more than a test score. A test score does not define my worth.
    • I do think I am more than a test score. I typically fail most of my in-class tests but I do well in other areas like homework and projects that show my skill level. Some people aren't good test takers and blank on exams, but they're still smart.
    • I don't like taking tests because you can practice one thing and get it, but when you get the test, it's way more difficult and nothing like what you studied, and test scores are how we are judged.
    • Yes, I am, I believe that I do my best work when I'm not under pressure and I make better scores on assignments.
    • Yes, I am more than a test score. I am someone who would like to receive a great education so later in life I can go on to get a great job that I like and will support my family.
    • I would like to say yes but unfortunately, that's not realistic.

    Thursday, June 15, 2017

    HB 7069

    # 1 in a series:

    June 15, 2017

    The Honorable Rick Scott
    Office of Governor Rick Scott
    State of Florida
    The Capitol
    400 S. Monroe St.
    Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

    Governor Scott:

    In terms of golf, you muffed it. Topped the ball and it dribbled off the tee. And no, Governor, I’m very, very sorry, but you will get no mulligan.

    You are signing one of the worst education bills in Florida history, and that’s saying something.

    Do you believe in the tyrannical power of government to tell citizens what they will or will not do? Or do you support the democratic right of citizens to determine how much to tax themselves and what they will do with it?

    If the latter, why are you signing a bill that forces Floridians to tax themselves and hand the money over to private corporations that operate charter schools? If those schools fail and the corporations vamoose, they own the assets for which they used those capital dollars. The taxpayers lose; they receive no reimbursement.

    But it’s worse.

    For the ‘Jobs’ governor, you really don’t seem to understand where the jobs are needed.

    The action you took today to sign HB 7069 will further destabilize the very neighborhoods where people are desperate for jobs, for hope, and for a better future.

    I applaud your fight with Florida’s legislative leaders to wrest budget money for economic development to attract industries to our state and for tourism promotions to bring people for a visit and spending in our tourism areas: beaches, Orlando, the Keys, and more. That is a good move.

    But no tourist wants to visit our most impoverished urban neighborhoods. But that’s where our greatest need lies.

    What are you doing, Governor Scott, to bring jobs to the places that need them most so their young men won’t conclude that their entrepreneurial instincts have no outlet but in a street corner job, one that brings violence, heartbreak, and misery?

    What are you doing, Governor Scott, to bring jobs to the places that need them most so their young women do not turn to the oldest profession in the world?

    What are you doing to bring jobs to our urban, impoverished neighborhoods?

    The challenge is just and you must answer—or you must stop calling yourself the ‘Jobs’ Governor.

    Very truly yours,



    Gregory Sampson

    Sunday, June 11, 2017

    The Role of a School Board Member

    This morning brings news from California that a school board member is surveying students via Google docs to ask them which of their teachers should be fired.

    I'm not making this up: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfuEAArKudshXvC2_OocgWDfj-cVnd0OKr7DtecaJudQzk1IA/viewform?c=0&w=1

    Check the survey out for yourself.

    School board members are elected officials. As such, there are no requirements, no qualifications, no certifications they have to hold to enter office other than receiving a majority of the vote in the election in which they ran.

    Thus, it is not surprising that too many don't understand their role.

    School board members are the representatives elected to oversee the public school system that is taxpayer funded. As such, they set policy, hire and supervise a superintendent who leads and manages the schools on a daily basis, and fulfill legal responsibilities to approve contracts that legally bind the institution to debt and payments of tax dollars, that govern the employees of the school system, and that fulfill the laws of their state. They work with the superintendent on strategic plans to increase student achievement, meet the growing need for seats in rapidly developing areas, and funding the capital (building, furniture, and equipment) needs of the system.

    They are a strategic and important link for constituents, that is, voters and parents, who voice their praise and concerns about their schools.

    They have a responsibility to advocate for and defend the community's schools against the forces that would decimate them, often for private profit.

    Lastly, school board members serve as the guiding force for the democratic institution that the public schools of America have been and should always be.

    School board members are not elected to micromanage schools. They have no say in who is appointed principal, who teaches at the school, and what discipline they think an individual teacher should receive other than to approve sanctions recommended by the superintendent as their legal responsibility.

    School board members are not elected to hand over taxpayer-bought assets to private corporations.

    School board members are not elected to implement policy hostile to the schools, parents, students, and employees that they represent. They should not be advocating via voice or print that public schools should be closed in favor of 'choice', a buzz word that means privatization. They were not elected to destroy the institution. If that's what they believe in and have any integrity at all, they would resign.

    If not, they will find themselves voting to rob taxpayers of their tax dollars. First the taxpayers paid to construct the school, then they have to pay a third party to buy the school, then when the school fails, they can watch the third party sell the property but they won't see the dollars return to the school system. In that event, the word 'thief' is not too harsh to describe those who give their approval.

    School board members advocate for their schools. They don't ask students what teachers should be fired. That reveals an ignorance of what takes place in their schools that can only be remedied by actual experience.

    They understand and work against the idea that they can run parallel school systems (public, charter, and voucher) on the resources sufficient for only one school system.

    They understand that a grading system of schools that relies upon one measure--testing--is insufficient to evaluate the excellence of a school that must also provide meals, counseling, and other support systems to students in desperate need of help.

    They are vocal in expressing their appreciation for all their hard-working employees, not only once a year when the calendar arrives in the first week of May, but throughout the year.

    It's not easy being a school board member, but these days, no job in education is easy.

    School board members are pivotal in easing that burden or making it harder.

    On this Sunday in June, I ask every school board member to reflect and consider, then answer the question: am I making it easier or harder?

    Saturday, May 6, 2017

    The Apology

    I am doing 20 hours of state-mandated ESE training in order to renew my teaching certificate next year. For that, I am giving up five Saturdays, 4 hours at a time, to attend a course titled Managing Anti-Social Behavior.

    Today we closed with a short discussion about making children apologize because we know they don't usually mean it.

    All the way home I have been thinking about that: the purpose of the apology.

    Most of the participants agreed that they didn't want a child to be forced to apologize when the child doesn't mean it. Case in point: the child has misbehaved, the parent has come to the school, and has the child stand in front of the teacher, "Apologize to Ms. Chalkdust."

    The facilitator suggested that a possible solution would be to discuss with the child what it really meant to be sorry, which others thought might even model for parents a better way of dealing with their child.

    As for me, I don't bother with that. I don't care if a child means it or not. That's a struggle I am not going to engage in ... for I cannot win. I cannot make a child mean anything and I don't think anyone else can.

    I offered my solution. I simply say, "Thank you. I accept your apology." And then I move on.

    What is the purpose of an apology?

    It is not repentance. It is not saying I will change my ways in the future. It is not even an admission of wrongdoing. It does not require a feeling of sorrow. In that sense, phony apologies abound. Think back to the last time you heard a politician apologize. Was it real or was it calculated to stop the damage to their career and restore their reputation in the eyes of the public?

    People say, "I'm sorry," all the time and they don't mean it.

    Apologies happen when a breach of relationship has taken place. They are the means by which persons repair the breach to restore normality.It is a part of etiquette, of manners, and those never require sincerity. They are the social glue that holds human civilization together.

    An apology is a recognition that something has gone wrong in a relationship, an acknowledgment of the importance of that relationship, and an act on the part of one person toward the other to restore the relationship.

    An apology today carries no guarantee that the person will not commit the same offense tomorrow. To require that is to require more than human nature can bear. You are asking Adam to spit out the apple and Eve to tread on the head of the snake. It is not going to happen.

    But! An "I'm sorry," however forced or insincere, restarts the relationship. When a student apologizes to a teacher, that teacher has obtained the necessary means to move forward and continue to work with the student for the common goals they share. Nothing more is needed.

    Thursday, April 27, 2017

    Teacher Appreciation Year Two

    In what may be an annual feature of this blog, a grumpy, old teacher returns to share with his employer how he could be shown appreciation this year. Teacher Appreciation Week is May 8 - 12.

    (2016's version: http://stoneeggs.blogspot.com/2016/04/teacher-appreciation-2016.html)

    1. OK, you can turn out the lights every 10 minutes, but unhook the air conditioning from that motion detector, puh-leeze. I'll sit in the dark but I'd rather not sweat my clothes into stinkville for 90 minutes before the last period of the day. Yep, the AC goes out with the lights.

    2. Can I have a $35 electric pencil sharpener for my students? I'm a math teacher. I'm supposed to insist they use a pencil, but when a child pulls a new pencil out of the backpack and asks for the sharpener, which the school will not buy, I can only say, "Gnaw on the end like a beaver, kid, that's the best I have to offer."

    3. If you insist on going with on-line, bookless curriculums, give me a laptop cart for my exclusive use. OR STOP comparing me to other teachers and schools that do get that laptop cart.

    4. Believe me and all my fellow secondary math teachers when we say that the Pearson curriculum we are using does not map to Florida standards. Stop belittling us and stop pretending that the right curriculum is teacher-proof. We are not a fire that is going to burn down the building. You don't have to 'proof' anything against us.

    5. Call off your dogs. Coaches and specialists return to the classroom. Oh, surprise--they won't go. They became coaches and specialists to get out of the classroom.

    6. Support our principals. Most of them stand behind us, advocate for us, and support us as we go about our daily job of teaching. They deserve better than to live in fear of non-reappointment from one June to the next.

    7. Fight for us. Tell the state of Florida that teacher computers should be exempt from the forced sleep every 15 minutes. You know why my laptop is inactive during the day when I am working with my students? I AM WORKING WITH MY STUDENTS, not sitting next to my laptop to keep the screen active and displaying the day's lesson!

    8. Pay the custodians, cafeteria workers, office clerks, and paraprofessionals well. The school won't run without them. They are essential, which is why every school votes them a share of the A-plus bonus money if a school receives it. $15 an hour is where you should start. If that's good for a fast food worker, we should at least match it.

    9. Remove the thousands upon thousands of dollars in book charges you placed upon our accounts when you forced us to accept class sets of textbooks as you didn't buy enough to issue one to every student. That comes out of our retirement money if those books are not removed. Same for the classroom libraries we were forced to take whether we wanted them or not.

    Really, how ridiculous is it to insist that a teacher have a library of books for students to read when they finish their work while insisting on bell-to-bell instruction and always having an extension or enrichment activity for students who complete their work early?

    (Note: the classroom library is in a state of disuse as we got rid of the media specialists who would issue them every year. But the previous year's allotment of books remain on teachers' accounts.)

    How could this happen? Because schools have too few personnel anymore to maintain the inventory systems with integrity. What most often happens is that books are collected, thrown into the storeroom, but no one ever scans them back into the inventory.

    10. Here comes the big one: Recognize that the test and punish laws of our state have forced our schools into focusing on the needs of adults: teachers needing a VAM score to avoid dismissal, principals needing a school grade of C or better to avoid reassignment, district leadership who face firing if improvement is not shown quickly enough, a focus on test scores above all else.

    How about a big splash event to apologize for allowing students to be test-taking widgets?

    Rededicate our schools to serving the needs of students, AND LET THE TESTS BE DAMNED, and this grumpy, old teacher will feel appreciated. Maybe I'll even be willing to sit in the dark and sweat.

    Saturday, April 8, 2017

    Demise of the Co-op

    I play this silly game on my tablet, when I am at home (don't salivate, professional standards for education police, I'm not playing when I am on my campus engaged in the professional activities for which I am paid--if you want me, you'll have to try harder), called Township.

    The game intrigues me. I have to manage a town and its economy, including farming operations vegetable and animal, factory production using the farming goods and ore from the mine, trade for materials the town does not produce via plane, train, and ship, building community places to attract people, provide housing for the people, provide entertainment like a zoo and amusement park, develop new territory, and fill orders for goods from the townspeople.

    It's a lot to manage, lots of variables to balance, and the intricacy is why I am enjoying playing the game.

    The game provides the option to join a co-op. Co-op members may help one another through the donation of goods and also may join together to compete in the regatta, a yacht race in which 15 co-ops compete for position and prizes.

    I belong to a very competitive co-op, but it was also a supportive co-op. There was only one rule: no freeloading, which meant no one could belong, do nothing in the race, help no one, but collect the same prizes at the end of the race that everyone else worked hard to achieve. As long as a member was making the effort, all was good.

    Until this week.

    Trends that had begun the previous week began to manifest firmly. Although we choose tasks to complete from a common board (that's how the regatta works--for example, choose to send 10 trains for 130 points), some members began calling for tasks to be reserved for them, although it may take hours before they are ready to start it. Then every member is expected to ask for permission before taking a task, although it is not clear who gives the permission. It seems some members have appointed themselves the arbiters of task distribution. Then it appears that these few members keep the most desirable tasks for themselves and no one else is allowed to have them.

    They leave the least desirable tasks for the other members. AND then they complain that these members are not doing their part.

    My name was discussed Friday as one who is not keeping up even though the original co-op members know that I can only do one or two tasks during the week because I work, but I complete many tasks on the weekend.

    And so a game I play for diversion from the stress of being a teacher, where I have heavy pressure all year long to produce a winning score from every student or else face sanctions, even the loss of my job, has become that job.

    If I don't produce a high enough score early enough, I will be kicked out of the co-op. Or lose my job. This week, I cannot tell the difference between the two.

    Except that I can. I can leave the co-op or stop playing the game. But teaching is my profession and my passion. I cannot stop doing that.

    But ponder the comparison. How the development, the social, emotional, and developmental needs of your child no longer count. All that matters is the score that is produced. Or get the <ahem> out.

    Substitute your favorite swear word.

    (BTW, I am leaving the co-op at the end of this race.)

    Sunday, March 26, 2017

    Just a Game

    I play this game on my tablet: Township. It's a ridiculous game, but I like it. I have to manage a 'town', including farming operations, both plant and animal, and use the products to produce goods in factories. Along the way, I have to build houses to attract people and community buildings to make the place worthwhile to live in. Also, there's a mine, because not all products can come from plants and animals. Plus, I have to manage planes, trains, and ships for trade to get the items I cannot manufacture on my own.

    In other words, the game is a game of managing a real-world economy as best as the game-makers can program.

    It's just a game, but I like it because players join a co-op and work together to achieve common goals. My co-op has a phenomenal leader and a purpose that we unite around: win the regatta (a weekly competition for prizes).

    Not to brag, but we're kicking butt on this game. It's a great feeling to belong to a group that has a purpose and works together to achieve a common goal.

    Stop yawning. I'm getting to the point.

    Why not education? Where is the leadership to unite teachers, families, and communities around common goals? Why are we drifting given the current challenges, as if it is better to be scattered around the bay in a random pattern so when the meteor falls into the water, well, too bad if you're close by and get swamped, but most will barely feel the waves rock their boats.

    I long to do something great in life and, for better or worse, I've wound up in education.

    As Jacksonville prepares for a change in superintendent, why can't we have someone who will unite us in a common purpose? Why can't we have a great leader who inspires everyone to unite around a common goal and work hard to achieve it?

    Or does that only happen in games?

    The Vitti Years

    What a week! While there is much to chew over, last weekend's perspective series led to compiling a list of what has happened over the last 4 years. It has to be incomplete, even now, so add your memories in the comments.

    Under Nikolai Vitti:

    1. 2012 Reduction in testing (a debatable point).
    2. 2012 Reduction in meetings that take people off their school campuses.
    3. April 2013 shake-up of district staff (I call it the May Day Massacre).
    4. Emphasis on instructional coaches for the first year.
    5. Principal churning.
    6. Change in the head of the communications department after she made disparaging remarks about his wife.
    7. Changes in the Student Code of Conduct.
    8. Positive Behavior Intervention Support.
    9. Restorative Justice.
    10. Evening school to replace grade recovery.
    11. Replacing Genesis (administrative program) with Focus.
    12. Performance Matters instead of Insight/Inform. (Data and testing)
    13. Test coordinators at secondary schools.
    14. Loss of media specialists.
    15. Graduation coaches.
    16. Rise in graduation rates.
    17. Narrowing of the achievement gap, especially in graduation rates.
    18. DJ. (costumed mascot)
    19. Emphasis on marketing schools to families.
    20. Single gender academies at Butler.
    21. Military academy, first at Stilwell and now at Ed White.
    22. Expansion of TFA.
    23. TNTP: hiring & recruiting, professional development, curriculum audit, surveys.
    24. Loss of recess in elementary schools.
    25. Middle School reform plan.
    26. Quality Education for All: schools in the Raines/Ribault/Jackson feeder patterns would attract the best teachers with large bonuses.
    27. Technology grants that put a 1 to 1 student/computer ratio in the QEA schools and all middle schools.
    28. Wireless upgrade in all schools.
    29. Conflict with Constance Hall, including the incident in which she was followed after leaving a board meeting.
    30. Jacksonville Public Education Fund.
    31. Support of the wealthy and the business community that was lacking under predecessors.
    32. Brought in new leadership for academic departments.
    33. Promoted old DCPS when the new leadership began leaving after one year.
    34. Adopted the Engage New York curriculum, first for elementary, now moving into middle school.
    35. Achieve 3000 (ELA online curriculum).
    36. iReady (Elementary and middle school math online curriculum).
    37. Online curriculum for science (somebody help me; what's its name?)
    38. Smith-Juarez request for resignation.
    39. AWOL when Florida Superintendents Association pushed back regarding testing and cut scores.
    40. Focus on data.
    41. Current Professional Development cycle, including school inspections.
    42. Expansion of charters and philosophy to compete, not oppose.
    43. 2012: "New way of work."
    44. Teacher academies.
    45. Decoupling of the district from the Schultz Center.
    46. Budget flubs.
    47. Parent Academy.
    48. Emphasis on the whole child.
    49. Restoration of art and music, at least initially.
    50. Repurposing schools experiencing possible state action or declining enrolllments.
    51. Grasp Academy (for dyslexia).
    52. Proposed academy for autistic students.
    53. First year: placing a permanent substitute teacher at every school.
    54. Certified teacher for In School Suspension.
    55. Deans of Discipline to free administrators from handling referrals.
    56. Open Enrollment for all schools proposal that failed.
    57. McDonald's approach to schools: everything should be the same everywhere.
    58. Busting Assistant Principal pay: ending the supplement for APs who would otherwise make earn more as a teacher.

    There must be more. I offer this list without comment on whether an item was good or bad.

    But the Vitti years have been tumultuous, productive (in initiatives good or bad), and one helluva ride.

    Sunday, March 19, 2017

    A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Four and a Half

    It had to happen. Like Doctor Who, when Christopher Eccleston would not return for the 50th anniversary special but they needed someone for the role, they had to bring in John Hurt. But what number would he be? They had been proceeding by whole numbers, but in the timeline, Hurt had to come between #8 and #9. The producers finessed the issue by not assigning a number at all. The math worked until ... OK, nerd moment over.

    I left out something important. It was going to happen as people commented on the Vitti years and their feelings about the superintendent. So here is part four point 5: inserted somewhere in the series where it should go.

    Nikolai Vitti embraced reform ideas and the organizations that embraced him. Among his legacy, he expanded the use of Teach for America (TFA) in the district and gave TNTP (The New Teacher Project, although they now eschew the name in favor of the initials only) an influence over hiring and professional development that has mostly gone unnoticed.

    In particular, he worked with JPEF and their backers to design the QEA program such that one half of the teachers would be traditionally certificated personnel and the other half would come from TFA. The district entered into a contract with TFA to hire 100 teachers a year from the organization at a finders fee that ran about $5000 each. (If I am in error here, because I am proceeding from memory, please correct me.)

    Under Vitti, TNTP has burrowed deeply into the district. They are the people who say it takes 11 hires to replace a great teacher, which implies that there also has to be 10 fires. Interpret that with the recent comment from the superintendent that he too once regarded teachers as easily replaceable widgets.

    TNTP drives professional development in the district. If there was a true feedback loop from teachers to the superintendent, he would learn that teachers, including the strongest cheerleaders he has among the ranks, universally despise the virtual PD provided under the leadership of his Assistant Superintendent for Strategic Planning, a new position and a new person to the district he plucked from the ranks of TNTP.

    Most teachers would say that there has not been a reform idea he has rejected.

    A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Six and Wrap-Up

    And the news broke that the superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, was a finalist for the superintendency of the Detroit school system.

    He contends that a national recruitment firm contacted him. But to quote a famous movie line when the rogue lost the girl to the hero in a matter of minutes, "She must have been willing."

    No one can blame the superintendent for looking out for his interests. Anyone in his position would have developed a backup plan and explored options given the history of the county and his fraught relationship with the board, the support of the foundations notwithstanding.

    Act One is closing. Whether the superintendent remains in Jacksonville, leaves for Detroit, or accepts a position at some other place, the era is ending.

    It is possible that the interest of the superintendent in the Detroit position is a gambit to strengthen his position vis a vis the board members as he faces an uncertain majority who will continue to support his ideas and proposals.

    Despite the statement of the head of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund as well as his most dependable board member, wishing him well in his future endeavors, I imagine a lot of behind the scenes meetings and phone calls have been taking place--asking what could be done to convince the superintendent to stay--this weekend.

    Perhaps the next few days will bring an announcement that he is withdrawing from consideration as he remains committed to Jacksonville and its schools. Then it will be up to good journalists to ferret out the details of the deal that was made.

    Even if the superintendent remains, things have changed and Act Two will begin.

    As the Detroit board faces a March 31 deadline to select a new superintendent, we will know soon.

    A personal note: I am turning 60 years old in August. I mention this to mean that for older people who have lived a lot of life, we have experience that tempers our judgment and our views.

    I was excited when Nikolai Vitti came to Jacksonville and announced a dramatic reduction in testing. However, I had lived enough life to take a wait and see attitude. Soon enough, I saw some things mentioned in this series that made me cautious.

    I was never a fan, but then, I am not a hater either. Dr. Vitti has moved the school system forward even though the test scores do not reflect all the progress that has been made. The board does him a disservice when they judge him solely by the letter grade a terrible, flawed, erroneous state system awards our schools.

    He was correct to develop broader measures for schools and to share those on the DCPS website. JPEF led the way in this.

    He has procured resources for our schools that other superintendents could not. He gathered community support, especially from those who had the buckeroos to make a difference, for our schools. He was willing to innovate and try new ideas, breaking the stifling demeanor of the old-timers that condemned the school system to mediocrity.

    But he has been controversial. He has run roughshod over personnel in his eagerness to move quickly. Careers have been ruined that had much to contribute. And it's not about him. Perhaps that is his greatest weakness: his focus upon himself.

    While others have called often for his resignation, I did not and I do not. Yes, there are ways I wish he would change, most especially in really listening to teachers and showing them respect.

    But I recognize that the superintendent was following a path he agreed upon with the board--a path that will not change if he leaves. If we do not have Vitti, we will have someone like him.

    La plus que ca change, la plus que la meme chose.

    A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Five

    As mentioned in the first part, the current superintendent is following the usual path in Duval County. After four years, he has entered the contentious board phase. While much of that is due to the culture of the city, its politics, and pressure on board members, the superintendent shares the blame for a relationship that need not have soured.

    It hasn't always been clear that Nikolai Vitti understood who he worked for. His relations with the board that gained public notice often gave the impression that he considered the board a necessary nuisance that he dealt with, but that his real bosses were the philanthropists such as Gary Chartrand, Chartrand Foundation, state BOE member, past chair of state BOE, and founder of Jacksonville Public Education Fund, Wayne Weaver, retired businessman and former majority owner of the NFL franchise, and Michael Ward, who recently announced his (forced) move up retirement date from CSX railroad.

    The superintendent's lack of presence in board meetings was noted from the start as his eyes remained fixed on the smartphone he was working. Indeed, at one meeting in the last year, the chair felt the need to command the superintendent to look at her while she was speaking to him.

    Tension was present from the beginning. In the first performance review, when the superintendent rated himself highly effective in all but one of 48 categories, other board members rated him as barely above a needs improvement rating.

    The superintendent tended to interpret this personally. When the animosity between him and Constance Hall broke into public view, he attributed their conflict to the fact that she wanted someone else for the job and was deliberately giving him low ratings ever since.

    It was an embarrassing moment. The text messages exposed to public view reflected favorably on neither person, but it did focus attention on how the board had become divided over the superintendent, his leadership, and his proposals.

    Three board members, feeling heat from constituents, pressed for better performance in the low-rated schools. Other board members defended the superintendent, going so far as to lecture the constituents in areas of town that were not in their area.

    Conflict ensued between board members as they clashed personally. In one memorable episode, one board member asked another, "Are you in love with me? Why are you always staring at me?"

    As tempers cooled, board members and the superintendent pledged to develop a better working relationship. However, one board member refused to attend any more development meetings, stating that nothing changed on the board after those meetings. It was always a 4 to 3 vote with the majority ignoring the minority's concerns.

    A year later, and the divide shifted with the chair joining the other three critics. She told the superintendent he should look for a place that would better use his talents and began a process for dismissal. The superintendent called another board member, who alerted media, the wealthy philanthropists showed up at a meeting to voice support for the superintendent, and the chair backed down.

    That was last fall. Although the superintendent received the show of support he wanted, he would be foolish to ignore the history of which he was now a part and consider offers for a new place.

    A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Four

    Before delving into the complicated relationship between the superintendent and the board of education members, let's have a look at the current philosophy in place for curriculum and learning.

    Nikolai Vitti implemented two cycles of technology for the classroom. The first focused on the QEA schools; the second, middle schools.

    Middle schools became a focus as the superintendent studied his data and realized that parents were leaving the system when their children were of middle school age and returning to participate in one of the many high school options the district offers.

    He offered a middle school reform plan to the board, who after discussion, approved it. Based in a middle school at the time, I was interested in the plan and how it would work out. I followed its implementation. Changes crept in that were not run by the board. This dynamic illustrates how the relationship between the superintendent and the board was becoming troubled. The board believed he did not keep them informed.

    Technology moved into classrooms: laptop carts for every teacher, enough so all the students in one class could be online at the same time, wireless access upgraded in every school to handle the load, technology packages consisting of a large display screen, webcam, USB hub, document camera, speaker, and clickers so teachers could present multiple choice quizzes and students could click an answer. Instant data! Hoo, boy.

    (Yes, I don't like that feature as a math teacher. Students excel at teasing out the correct response, but when I discuss their choice with them, they don't understand the actual mathematics. I prefer other ways of assessment that tell me what they really know.)

    Along with the technology came the programs for Competency-Based Education that many educational activists despise: Achieve 3000, iReady among them.

    The superintendent, his supporting leadership, and district staff monitor usage of these programs. Principals are notified if the students are not spending enough time on these programs.

    Textbooks have been abandoned in favor of online curriculum. Middle school math no longer has books; students work off a Pearson website for teacher-presented lessons and homework. The Engage New York curriculum has been placed in elementary schools, along with scripts for teachers, and is moving into the middle school level. High schools are probably using their last textbook as well.

    We have not as a district solved the problem, however, of our families who do not have home internet access. They may not own a device capable of accessing these curriculums for home study. Not every child has a smartphone available to work on the apps; even that solution carries the cost of a data plan.

    The superintendent defends his decisions with his data: the technology and related curriculums are improving student achievement. (As measured by testing data.)

    He proposes to complete the outfitting of schools, as have and have-nots currently exist in the district, with a third fifty million dollar spending plan that would require a 15-year loan. That has received pushback from even his staunchest supporter on the board, who questions taking out a 15 year loan to purchase equipment that will not last beyond five years.

    These latest moves have involved more community and teacher pushback. Teachers want discretion to adjust curriculum to meet the needs of their students and resent being handed a script to read. Parents want children to have actual books to read instead of photocopied pages or even worse, reading off the big screen in the front of the room.

    The latest proposal has awakened fears that accompanied his first days in the district that, despite his statement that he will stay until his young children graduate from a Jacksonville high school, he will move on. A 15-year loan for 5 years of useful life works for someone who will leave the problem of the last 10 years to a successor. For the taxpayers, though, not so much.

    A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Three

    Yes, reform is hard as hell. Nikolai Vitti was hired to be a transformative leader. While rapid change pushed hard by new leadership is discomforting, disorienting, and hard on employees, the superintendent moved quickly to implement new ideas, rapidly discarding anything that didn't produce results in a short period of time.

    He took the blame for the disruption, but he was doing what he was hired to do: Disrupt the system in an effort to reform the school system and bring swift results.

    It didn't happen. There were higher school grades, but not all schools improved to the level of the goals set. After the first year, many of the persons he hired from outside the system began to leave: Fred Heid, Daniela Simic among them (Chief of Schools, Chief of Academic Services).

    Rather than bringing new people on board, the superintendent promoted existing leaders, among them Addison Davis and Mason Davis. At this time, the culture disruption dissipated.

    In some ways, that was not a bad thing. The attitude changed from one of rapidly replacing anyone who didn't produce immediately to one of bringing needed support to existing administrators and other school personnel if results were not increasing. The churning of appointments slowed. A more steady operating style ensued.

    At this time, about three years ago, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund took a visible role as an adjunct organization that worked to promote and support public education in the city, both traditional schools and charter schools.

    Vitti received confidence and tangible support for the school system from wealthy businesspeople and philanthropists. One of the most visible programs was the Quality Education for All initiative that paid 30 to 50 % supplements to teachers with high Value Added scores to transfer to the lowest-graded schools in the city, basically identified as the Raines, Ribault, and Jackson high schools and their feeder patterns.

    Many teachers took the transfers. Others passed, such as myself, because, while the District demanded a three-year commitment to remain at one of these schools, it did not offer a three-year guarantee of the salary supplement. That was contingent upon producing test scores that would translate into a high Value Added rating as compared to the rest of the city.

    Or maybe only the targeted schools. That controversy erupted when teachers were told they did not qualify for the bonus, a wound made additionally raw by the few teachers that were initially told they would receive a partial payment but then informed that a mistake had been made and they would get nothing.

    Although the District quickly corrected their mistake, it left bad feelings in the ranks of teachers.

    Here another feature of the culture comes into focus: lack of communication. As time goes on, teachers seem to hear less and less from the superintendent. Although he makes an effort with administrators, his vision for the district is no longer reaching teachers. Many feel disconnected with his leadership and therefore not valued. Even the superintendent himself admitted recently that he had had an attitude that teachers were easily replaceable like widgets in a machine, but now realizes they are not. It is not known whether he only means the teacher shortage or whether he is beginning to understand the institutional expertise that veteran teachers have.

    We can only surmise, but one of his current interests is teacher leadership and what that looks like. It was the topic for the latest JPEF roundtable. Here I must confess that I missed the wrap-up session to hear the superintendent address the group. It was my intention to go, but I had students come for after-school tutoring and their need won out. By the time I was finished with them and returned a parent phone call, it was too late to attend.

    Here I align with the superintendent. While he maintains a high level of self-focus, he does genuinely care about the students and their learning needs. He may be abrasive at times, but he sincerely believes that the decisions he makes and the goals he sets are done by maximizing the impact ofnstudent learning and welfare.

    Proof is the bus shooting incident two years ago. When he was notified, the superintendent immediately gathered staff, principals, snacks, and water and went to the site.


    Saturday, March 18, 2017

    A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Two

    The early days were heady and exciting. The new superintendent arrived in town with a 100 day plan: what he would do in his first months on the job. Indeed, the 100 day plan was the subject of his doctoral thesis, for which Harvard University awarded him a prestigious Ed. D.

    He would visit every school in the district, at least that is what I remember hearing. I kept count as the days passed and he did not show up at my school. After day 100 passed, I kept count to see how long it would be. Long enough that I didn't bother to count the days anymore.

    But he declared about 60 days into his superintendency that he had finished his plan.

    He did go to many events at that time. He met with community persons as he traveled around the city to hear their concerns. He made himself available to the point where I wondered about the toll it would take on his young family.

    Kudos for that. Kudos for talking with anyone who showed up, even disgruntled teachers.

    He invited anyone to contact him at any time. Many took him up on that and he responded. To this day, if you email the superintendent, you will get a response. He received many invitations to visit schools, some of which were from teachers who didn't inform their administrators about it. The response came soon: Follow protocol.

    Then the churning of principal appointments began. Eventually, across the years of his superintendency, over half of the principals at our schools would be changed, regardless of how parents, students, staff, and the community felt.

    A newly appointed principal understood well the position they were in: produce immediate results or be replaced. As always, results meant test scores.

    In the following year, the superintendent did not wait for the year end state assessment reports. He replaced principals midyear if the district tests were not to his satisfaction.

    The inevitable pressure flowed downward through schools and it was maybe at this point that the superintendent began to lose the support of many teachers.

    He placed great importance on instructional coaching during his early days. He made all teacher coaches reapply for their jobs and undergo basic training. He told them during the first Coaches Academy that if improvement took place, it would come through them.

    He tried in his first budget to place a math and reading coach at all schools. He flubbed the numbers and had to make an embarrassed retreat. He could not provide that. But he did his best.

    The next year, though, as that did not work out, he abandoned his stance that the coaches are the key element in school success and moved on. They were not so important, after all. He had a new latest greatest idea.

    And we saw another feature of his superintendency: ideas have a short shelf life.

    Unknown to him, that had implications that seasoned hands knew: if you didn't like the latest policy, wait six months, it will change. Don't bother yourself about it.

    Thus it was that one day he lamented to Times-Union editorial board, "Reform is hard as hell."