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 He is not interested in the details as long as he can tweet that Obamacare is repealed and he has kept a campaign promise.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."

A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part One

News broke in Jacksonville this morning that our superintendent of schools is one of three finalists for the superintendency of Detroit schools.

Detroit? Really? That begs the question why.

This is a developing story, therefore, whatever I post now will be outdated by tomorrow.

The superintendent issued a statement to the media in which he explained that he has been contacted numerous times in his four plus years at the Duval County helm, but he has turned them down. This time, the chance to help his hometown, his place of birth, was irresistible.

Bonkers. If there is one feature about the man that overwhelms all in his path, it is his self-absorption. He's not doing anything out of a noble impulse to help the people left in a crumbling, bankrupt, failing school system.

After all, he initially criticized the Devos appointment before falling silent on the subject. He's not walking into Devos-land blind, a land that produced the Detroit situation by design.

We need perspective.

Nikolai Vitti's superintendency has been following the usual trajectory: hiring, honeymoon period in which everyone gushes about his superb talent, a quiet rumbling of discontent about how our low-performing schools (as measured solely by school grade and that means test results) are not improving fast enough, failure to meet unrealistic improvement targets, more discontent among board members, alienated school staff, more unhappy board members, a split board engaging in personal animosity, a move for dismissal, and then a resignation or non-renewal of contract.

Let's be honest, Jacksonville, it happens every time unless the superintendent is as talented as Joseph Wise, who managed to compress the normal five to six year timeline into 23 months.

However you feel about the man, Vitti's time is nearly up.

But he is a fascinating figure in his own right. Let us examine the history.

He arrived in November 2012. Among his first moves was the reduction of testing--at least on paper. Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) had an abundance of tests scheduled throughout the year because every district department had its own test that it pushed into the schools. But the irony is that the test schedule was not representative of what really took place. Most of the tests were marked optional, and trust me, this teacher never forced students to take an optional test.

The first efforts at test reduction were window dressing. However, later on, the superintendent did reduce testing in a real way and we should give him credit for that. However much his departments might write tests and get snippy when teachers said no, he did not force us to give them. He eliminated baseline and quarter tests to one December test that was necessary for the school district to meet data reporting requirements for the state.

(In fairness to critics, yes, lately, more testing has crept back into the schedule.)

Then he sent fear through the district as he questioned why administrators were pulled from buildings for meetings and teachers were pulled to develop curriculum and tests. Many applauded his expressed belief that admins and teachers needed to remain on property to run schools and teach in classrooms.

But as time went on, administrators were absent from their schools as often as they were before. It became apparent that he didn't object to people being absent for meetings as long as they were his meetings. His objection was to other people's meetings.

Then came the May Day massacre, when longtime Duval district staff were told they were no longer needed. Weeks before their contracts ended, they were called to a conference room on Prudential Drive to surrender their badges and equipment. They would now have to walk in the front door and be screened by security personnel before they could go to their workplaces and carry on.

The rumor was that Vitti had said that anyone with more than 15 years in the building should clear out. Many asked if that qualified as age discrimination.

At that time, with all the new people he had brought in, many thought that the existing imperial attitude among DCPS district staff was overthrown--the attitude that the schools and their personnel existed to serve their needs, that they were better, and if you weren't high enough, they wouldn't condescend to acknowledge or talk to you.

Vitti was hired by the board (under heavy lobbying by the wealthy and business class in the city) to disrupt the existing culture and he did that.

Until he didn't.


Writing by Computer

After I post an item, I usually read and reread the post--many times over. Maybe I'm in love with my words, I dunno. Maybe I'm checking and rechecking for grammatical errors, misspellings, and clarity of expression. Often I have to edit.

My latest post, only minutes ago, had three such errors. I have had to edit three times. I did not type manner when I meant manager, through when I meant their, but I will own up to the fact that I needed to correct a sentence that implied our superintendent is elected.

What's my beef?

I get compliments on my writing. I'm not bragging; it's context for the next paragraphs.

I read other blogs. Grammatical errors, misspellings, and tangled logic appear in the writing of educated people, teachers, even ELA teachers.

It is the bane of computer writing. The mind sees what it thinks it typed, not what was actually typed. Not even spell check helps because if the word is in the spell check dictionary, it doesn't get flagged.

What's the point? It is this: We have tested our school children on their writing skills via computer in the last two weeks. If competent adults, even English teachers, are subject to errors because of the medium, why do we judge the ability of our children when they make mistakes?

Detroit: It Makes No Sense

Detroit schools are a mess. The state has gutted them through charter competition, a lack of funding, and an emergency manager that castrated all the powers of the elected school board.

Over the last several years, continuing now, those of us who work in public education and are part of advocacy groups know about the dilapidated schools, the broken plumbing, the mold in bathrooms, hallways, and classrooms, the roof leaks that require children to wear raincoats during inclement weather. Detroit teachers have struck, protested, and received threats of termination in response.

Detroit?

Something doesn't make sense. Here is some background:

http://detroitk12.org/content/2017/03/15/dpscd-board-voted-to-sue-states-sro/

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2017/01/23/detroit-schools/96971270/

http://www.freep.com/story/news/education/2017/01/25/close-failing-detroit-schools-what-parents-do/97003616/

https://news.vice.com/story/school-choice-detroit-betsy-devos

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/01/20/how-appalling-are-conditions-in-detroit-public-schools-this-appalling/?utm_term=.245c403e3210

http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2016/01/more_than_100_photos_of_mice_l.html

http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2016/01/14/detroit-schools-problems/78804118/

News about Detroit has always made me glad that our schools, despite their challenges and age, have not deteriorated to that point. That we still have local control through an elected school board that hires our superintendent. That our parents still have the option of sending their children to a neighborhood school secure in the knowledge that they will be sheltered from the elements, fed, have a textbook, and transportation.

Detroit? Why would Dr. Vitti leave Jacksonville for that mess?

I am working on a perspective to appear later. But I wanted to ask the question. Might it be some other goal is sought and we will learn in a few days that he has dropped out of consideration?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Junkety

Junkety schools with Junkety equipment and Junkety furniture for Junkety students.

That's the executive summary. Read on.

For far too long, I have worked in schools that struggle with limited capital funds to provide halfway decent furniture and equipment for its classrooms.

Maybe it's the graffiti that's never cleaned off, maybe it's the fact that I have to keep a toolkit in my desk to repair student desks and other furniture, maybe it's the oddly bent legs on tables, maybe it's the fact that my chair at my desk cannot hold its height and I have to sit at a level equivalent to a full-grown man, which I am, squeezing into a desk made for a kindergarten student.

Maybe it's the hallway lockers smashed in. Maybe it's the parent who comes to me as I rent lockers during preschool orientation to say, "My child will not have that filthy graffiti to look at all year long." Maybe it's the fact that my floors are never mopped or rewaxed during the year, and by now, no one would contemplate eating off it.

Maybe it's the screws and other hardware I pick up every year as desks deteriorate under student use.

Maybe it's stepping around the goose droppings on the sidewalk.

Whatever. The impression is clear: Our schools are junkety. We struggle to maintain them.

And then, we have to take the viewpoint of a child, who doesn't understand a legislature determined to defund public schools, a lack of resources, a tired staff not paid nearly enough to clean and maintain schools.

Our schools are junkety. Filled with junkety equipment and junkety furniture, and for a student, it only can be because they are junkety, too. Not worth the expenditure to have a decent place to learn.

Is this the best we can do?

According to the Florida legislature, yes. We have too much money for our schools via our local property taxes and they want to take more for the charters.

Memo to Florida legislators: If the last time you stepped into a school was when you were a student, you are not able to cast an informed vote on any education legislation before you.

Junkety schools; junkety students. How dare anyone believe that.

(The bill is SB 1852. Rise up, Florida, and oppose the sharing of school property taxes with charter schools.)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Tragedy

The Fates [in Greek mythology] were personified as three very old women who spin the threads of human destiny. Their names were Clotho (Spinner), Lachesis (Allotter), and Atropos (Inflexible). Clotho spun the “thread” of human fate, Lachesis dispensed it, and Atropos cut the thread (thus determining the individual’s moment of death). --from Wikipedia

And when Atropos dips her scissors into Clotho's bag of flax, what then?

A life cut short, too short, a life that never reached its moment to fulfill all that we intended for it.

The thread had not been spun, not completely, but now it is no more.

All that is left is grief and tears and anger and fear and sorrow.

Regret for those of us who are old and would have willingly traded our life for the young one taken too soon.

Shock for those who are young and cannot fathom how their belief, born of their age and development, that they will last forever somehow turns out to be wrong.

Gone. Just gone.

There are no words when a young person dies. It is not the time to philosophize about free will and evil, the choices we make, and the consequences we suffer. It is not the time to rage in debate about God and his creation. It is not the time to fall into nihilism.

It is a time to grieve.

It is a time to love.

A time to remember and be strong for those who despair.

--- In Meam Commemorationem MC (out of respect for the family, I do not list the full name.)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Contacts with Russians

Full disclosure: I have a wonderful friend in Russia. We began as pen pals over two decades ago when mail was the only way to talk to someone in Russia. I visited him in his home in 1995 and have been hopeful ever since I could reciprocate. But life events get in the way and we haven't been able to meet again. Some day ...

So I too have had contacts with Russians.

There is nothing wrong with American officials talking to Russian officials. Donald Trump did get it right (for once) when he said that it is a good thing for the American and Russian governments to have a good working relationship because we have many common interests in the world.

From the American side, we need to get over the fact that Putin ate Obama's lunch often when it came to foreign affairs. The strength of America has been that, throughout our history, we have not held grudges but acted on pragmatic impulses: find the good and move forward, not holding onto the past.

Putin has been busy rebuilding Russia's power and influence in the world in the hope of returning a great nation to superpower status.

Russia is a great nation. Russians are a great people. But they have a different history and culture from the West. As they find forceful leaders such as Ivan IV (the formidable: that is a better translation than what you normally read), Peter the Great, and Joe Stalin, and now maybe Putin, these leaders force change upon their society and the people have paid a cost for it. How heavy that cost has been is the subject of endless debate.

We need to partner with Russia on many issues. If you haven't noticed, the Cold War is over.

Therefore, our people need to talk to their people. That's not the problem.

Now let's turn to the elephant in the room, and it's hilarious that the elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party but we're talking about the Democrat Party.

Who knows exactly what hacking Russian agents did and what level of government approved of such efforts? We ordinary citizens will never have access to classified intelligence. The question is who do you trust?

The question is moot. Let's say that Putin did authorize a hack of Democrat email and worked through Wikileaks to inform the world of what was found.

If it happened, it was not a hack of voting machines to falsify vote counts. It was a revelation of truth: what the Democrats were doing to ensure that Hillary Clinton would win the nomination.

No vote was changed. Well, not enough votes were changed to affect the election. The hacked email and also the fake news stories did not sway people. All it did was to reinforce existing beliefs in the population.

Trump won because he had an appeal to displaced working class people that allowed him to win states that traditionally go to the Democrats.

Campaigns having discussions with officials from other countries is not the issue we are now dealing with.

The issue we have in America is why so many new appointees feel the need to lie about the contacts they had with Russian officials.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Yes, Betsy, There Is a Free Lunch

I’m Betsy DeVos. You may have heard some of the ‘wonderful’ things the mainstream media has called me lately,” she said. “I, however, pride myself on being called a mother, a grandmother, a life partner, and perhaps the first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
                        (Address to the CPAC conference, February 2017)

Dear Betsy,

You and your friends are wrong. There is a free lunch, one that is provided every day to many thousands of schoolchildren in their public schools. One that even your preferred 'schools of choice' should provide. It is a lunch for kids whose parents cannot or will not pay so that their child may have one nutritious, fulfilling meal a day.

You judge those parents, Betsy. You believe they are morally wanting as if they did not love their children. As if they did not have to work two or three jobs at minimum wage to pay rent, provide clothing, medical care, and sometimes don't have enough for more than cornflakes and ketchup. Have you checked the price of cereal lately?

You say that the problem is one of character education. That fits with your views that our school system should be used to advance YOUR idea of God's kingdom. You might want to check in with God on that one. Because the Bible you claim is the Bible filled with the prophets' cries for social justice and compassion for the poor.

Betsy, all the character education in the world will not satisfy an empty stomach. If you had gone to public school, you would have learned about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

There is a free lunch. Oh, you are correct in that someone had to pay for it. Food does not magically appear as if there is a crack between multiple universes and nourishing products slip through into ours. But there is a free lunch.

A lunch free to children because we, the taxpayers, have agreed to provide it. Because no one, not even you, Betsy, can walk by a hungry child and not do something. The problem is that you have insulated yourself from the hungry and poor and therefore feel you need do nothing.

Betsy, there are no words left for you except these: FEED MY LAMBS.

You know who said that.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Guns in Schools (Revisited)

It really is a Tale of Two Cities in my domicile, the City of Jacksonville, FL, the "Bold New City of the South."

Two years ago, I wrote about children bringing guns to schools after a day in which two middle school students in my school were arrested for having handguns, one of which was loaded: http://stoneeggs.blogspot.com/2014/10/guns-at-school.html

Recently, the issue has arisen again due to two news events: one for the public school system, http://jacksonville.com/news/crime/2016-02-05/story/guns-found-2-jacksonville-high-schools-friday and http://jacksonville.com/news/2017-02-07/duval-school-board-vitti-discuss-next-steps-reduce-weapons-schools; one for a private school, http://jacksonville.com/news/2017-02-10/2-students-guns-campus-private-school-jacksonville-avoid-charges.

A public system; a private school. There are arrests; there are no arrests. Students are expelled; students are 'dismissed.' School police are automatically called in; Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is not called. Schools for everyone regardless of income; schools for those who can afford it.

Different outcomes.

By all means there should be consequences for children who endanger other children even if 'it was a mistake,' 'these are good boys,' or 'they were afraid.' We hear these excuses every time. Even mistakes carry consequences.

But I can't help noticing how wealth makes a difference. Those who can afford private tuition: their children are excused when a mistake is made. Those who cannot: their children are arrested and go into the criminal justice system. No excuse is allowed.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

My Dear Marco ...

Dear Senator Rubio,

Thank you (not so much) for your canned response to my very serious concerns. This is not the first time you have sent me an "interim response" with no final response coming ever.

Thank you for patronizing me without an attempt to hear my concerns and respond as one human being to another. While I recognize that you cannot personally respond to every communication you receive nor can you hire enough staff to do the same, you could sort your contacts by topic and have meaningful responses rather than the blather you send.

You might even go opposite to every politician's instinct and put into your responses what you will do without worrying about losing a vote.

I would respect that.

This, not so much: "Thank you for taking the time to contact me. Your correspondence has been received and I welcome the opportunity to address your concerns. Hearing directly from constituents such as yourself is truly an honor, and your input is much appreciated."

You are notorious for not showing up to work and these days, with your family's immigrant background, you must want to hide more than ever. While your party demands compliance at all levels with a xenophobic president, you must disagree.

Floridians want something better: a courageous Senator who will work to see the right thing done regardless of personal benefit or cost. Could you find it within yourself to oppose the executive order banning entry into this country by persons holding green cards or visas? Could you decide to buck your leadership to oppose the worst Cabinet nomination in over a century? Will you vote against Betsy Devos?

Life is not a presidential run, dear Marco. Life is about making the right choices in whatever circumstances in which you find yourself. If you are indeed destined to lead a great nation, then like Winston Churchill, you will find the 'wings of fate' beating above your head. Churchill was a used-up, washed-up backbencher warning against Hitler. Everyone thought him 'past it,' as the Brits would say. Then he turned out to be right and the only man available when the crisis came.

He wound up being the only commoner in 1000 years of English history to have his profile on England's coins.

He spoke out in favor of truth without a worry of being Prime Minister or getting anyone's favor. Will you do the same?

Can you do the same? Because a crisis is coming. Surely you see that. (Tweet, tweet.)

Twice now you asked us to send you to the Senate. The second time after you said you were done. What do you go back for? Please say for the people of Florida, not your personal ambitions or whatever carrots your party's professional politicians, elite, and powers dangled before you.

Thus, you are committed to the job, right? Your second term will not be marked by your fellow Senators shouting "Marco" in the pool and hoping to hear your faint return "Polo." You will show up for votes and committee work. And you will stand for what's right and Florida citizens.

Prove it. Oppose the attempts to roll back the New Deal. Support and save Social Security, including Medicare. Stop the privatization of our public schools. Oppose the wall. Support enforcement of existing law.

Promote justice, domestic tranquility, the common welfare, and the blessings of liberty.

Very truly yours,

Gregory Sampson