Saturday, October 7, 2017

Stretch Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one can know.

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

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

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

Masquerade

In one of the all time favorite Broadway shows, Phantom of the Opera, we get this stupendous chorus and dance:



The Masquerade: where everyone hides behind a mask and pretends to be someone different.

But who is that fellow who appears at the end? None other than the phantom, who has something to say about the theater.

Today that is me. Let's talk about the masquerade of the standardized testing, Common Core-styled, a/k/a PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and variations on the theme as it pertains to mathematics, in particular, the technologically-enhanced items that have you convinced that at last, at long last, the states have a test to measure student achievement in a meaningful way.

Multi-Select:
     This type of item tries to do away with the test-taking technique of narrowing down multiple choice answers until there is one obvious answer to choose. The student must evaluate a number of choices and select each one that is correct.

An example:  What is 4 + 3?
                             () 7
                             () 3 + 4
                             () 5 + 2
                             () 43
                             () 12
                             () 1

How does a student need to tackle this problem? By looking at each choice and deciding if it is correct or not!

This is not a new type of question: It is an old-fashioned TRUE/FALSE quiz item.

Drag and Drop:
     This type of item presents open boxes and circles to be filled with numbers, variables (letters), and symbols from an answer bank.

An example:


Fill in the blank! Generations of school children have dealt with this type of quiz question and hated it because they had to think up something for the blank. But wait! Our newfangled CC tests give them an assist: all they have to do is grab something from the bank for the blank.

Matching:
     Let me quote from Florida's Item Specifications for Grade 8 mathematics to give you an idea of this one: "The student checks a box to indicate if information from a column header matches information from a row."
     Which, as every student knows, can be worked out by making all the obvious matches and then seeing what's left. Since these item types don't ask for more than 3 or 4 matches, once the student works out the obvious ones, all that's left is to connect the one pair they don't know but have to go together.

Drop-Down Menu:

    Meant to mimic "Cloze Reading," this time asks students to complete a paragraph by choosing the correct response from a drop-down menu.

An example:


    Sorry that the screen capture is small, but hopefully you can see that all a student has to do is select one of the choices presented. Yes, this type of question is really multiple choice.

Equation Editor:

    At last, an item that requires a student to determine a correct answer without a list of choices or a 50-50 guess. Perhaps we finally have an item that truly measures student understanding and skill. But wait, take a look at this:


We are asking students to generate original thought, but there are two problems with this. One, the interface. The equation editor is hard to use and students frequently ask for help during testing to get their desired response entered correctly. To which every smart teacher says, "I cannot help you," for fear of being accused of cheating. Two, student don't understand the response required. Once, a student asked me how to enter his response when the screen showed 'y =' and then the response box. He asked, "Do I put 'y =' into the box?' That would have resulted in an incorrect answer because the computer would have seen 'y = y=.' Yet, the student had the correct answer. So these items don't measure student understanding of mathematics as much as they measure the student's ability to navigate the interface.

Free Response:

    At last, an item worthy of testing students. An example:


But this requires a human to score it, which negates the argument for computerized testing. In fact, it suggests that the best person to score a response is the student's teacher. Oops! We can't have that. So we'll advertise on Craig's List and other places for warm bodies to read and assign a grade. I wonder how much time this item's response will get when we have previously had reports from persons grading writing test that they get about a minute per essay.

The Take-Away:

You have been told that computer testing has eliminated the limitations of standardized testing in which students eliminate possibilities and guess/select the best answer. Nonsense. Most of these item types are old wine in new wineskins. The only types that are new come with limitations that make them of limited use: the interface gets in the way or we simply ask less qualified persons than professional teachers to evaluate the responses and assign a grade.

Why does anyone think these Common Core era tests are better than what was done in the past?

Why does anyone think that these tests measure anything other than the test-taking skills a child possesses?



It is nothing more than a masquerade.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Price of a Human Life

The College Board, through its alter ego the Educational Testing Service (ETS), is soliciting teachers to sign up for a trial program in which teachers can serve on an advisory panel that will help them develop a testing platform, "a suite of tools," "that will measure student learning." Oh, and for signing up, teachers agree to have their classes undergo field testing in the Spring.

I will share the email text below.

For this invaluable help, the ETS will pay the school, NOT the teacher but the school, five dollars for every completed test.

Sorry, I should have warned you to put your drink down. Sorry I can't help you clean up the liquid you just spewed on your floor.

Five bucks. Five dollars. It puts me in mind of the scene from the second Harry Potter movie when Lucius Malfoy asks Arthur Weasley what's the point in being a disgrace to the name of wizard if he's not being well paid for it.

Indeed. Why would I sell out my students (I wouldn't do it for any price), but ETS is not going to pay well for it. Data mining on the cheap. AND they don't offer to pay me, but they will give a measly five bucks to my school.

If I was tempted, I would tell them my students are worth far more than that. Should we open negotiations at $500,000 per completed field test?

You're right, not enough.

ETS, let's start at five million, but I expect more.

What is the price of a human life? What price can we put on human data?

What ETS offers wouldn't buy even a Big Mac anymore. Nope, can't stomach it, will not cooperate with a corporation that wants a human life for less than the cost of a hamburger.

Here's the email text:

ETS is seeking teachers to participate in an online survey panel which will aid in the development of assessment tools that can be used in your classroom. Your input will help us to develop the product to be responsive to the needs of today’s students and educators.  Over the next two years, we will also be conducting a variety of activities and studies that will allow us to collect feedback on our items, systems, and products.  In thanks for your participation, we will provide you with a giftcertificate.com gift card for each survey and/or activity you complete.We are in the process of developing a new suite of tools, including Summative, Benchmark/Interim, and formative components to be used within the classroom, to measure student’s knowledge, skills and abilities in mathematics and English language arts, from elementary to high school grades. This new product from ETS, called the Winsight™ Assessment System, will be a unified, configurable system that harnesses the strength of ETS research, providing insight into where students are and where they need to be-- and enabling educators to create a pathway to get them there.Winsight is flexibly designed for your state’s standards and ETS Learning Progressions and integrates the state summative, interim and formative assessments into one inter-connected assessment system that requires less summative testing time, by measuring what is truly important, and makes learning deeper and more transparent. Winsight will deliver more actionable information to guide instructional strategies thereby creating a richer environment for teaching and learning and leading to improved outcomes for your students.In addition to the online survey panels, we will be conducting a field test this spring to test items and the end-to-end delivery system.  These field tests are being conducted across the country, with students in Grades 3-10.  In appreciation for the work, your school will receive a $5 honorarium for every completed test, as well as information on student’s performance and professional development materials that explore how students’ conceptual understanding develops in key areas of mathematics and English language arts.If you would like to take advantage of any of these opportunities, please fill out our survey by clicking the survey link below:Survey LinkThank you for your consideration. We look forward to your response!The ETS Winsight Team

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Trump GIF or Should I Say Gaffe?

So a jokester makes this GIF of the president striking a golf ball, which then hits Hilary Clinton in the back (oh, the wonders of Photoshop) and causes her to fall down.

https://twitter.com/Fuctupmind/status/908163011793358848/photo/1



The president sees it in his Twitter feed and retweets. He must have found it hilarious.

But in his weird Trumpian way, he condemns himself at the same time.

As an avid golfer, Trump knows that such an errant golf shot that has left the golf course to strike a person at an airport who is boarding a plane is OUT OF BOUNDS.

Let the irony sink in.

The jokester forgot to edit in a speech bubble with the president shouting "Fore!" to warn persons to duck.

Yes, so what seems to be a ha-ha for Trump is actually a condemnation of his disregard for other people to the point of showing him callous to the danger he has put them into.

Why in the world did he think this was worthy of a retweet?

Donald Trump, you are out-of-bounds, sir. An honorable golfer would call a penalty on himself.

Are you game?

Friday, September 8, 2017

People of Faith and Natural Disasters

Long, long time ago: well, 25 years to be exact, I was taking a course in biblical Greek because the seminary I would enter in January demanded that students come in with expertise in the language. Although they allowed students to take a course upon matriculation for no credit, I as always worked to meet the need and enrolled in a Miami seminary, a very small outfit, to get the needed knowledge. When I arrived in Wilmore, Kentucky, I took and passed an exam to prove I could read and understand the language.

(Yawns, okay, why is this relevant?)

Because 25 years and a few weeks ago, Hurricane Andrew devasted South Florida with 165 mph winds.

That delayed the start of the course. But when it began, we had an info session with everyone in the room: students, profs, deans.

I remember to this day how one dean talked about Hurricane Andrew and how it was forecast to strike West Palm Beach directly, which would cause unimaginable death and destruction to millions of people, but he was convinced that God put his hooks into the storm and pulled it south where it would not impact as many persons.

Hooray for you, God! Thanks for sparing me, but damn, do I feel bad for the people who got it.

Later, in my class, as people shared their Andrew experience, I realized that many people in that room had to listen to that spiel knowing that their homes were destroyed, knowing the hard work they were engaged in to rebuild their lives, and knowing that they were committed to not letting a Category 5 hurricane disrupt their education. They didn't share their feelings, but we can imagine how they felt hearing that God spared me, but it sucks to be you.

I recall that memory as Irma approaches Florida. Please, Christians, however it turns out, can we not embarrass ourselves? Let's not thank God loudly if we are spared the worst of the storm when others are not. We are not better, we have not lived better lives, if you need some help, I direct you to read Ecclesiastes.

Or perhaps these words from the Gospel will help: [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.

It happens to us all. Long after the hurricane has passed (now is not the time), we can have a discussion about sin and how the entire world fell with humanity and so everything, including climate and weather, is imperfect and potentially harmful.

I haven't prayed much about this storm. Does that surprise you?

But I'm not smart enough to know what is best. I leave that up to God. I simply trust in His goodness, and that He will make all things better according to his purposes.

In this life or the next one. That is another theological discussion we can leave till later.

For now, let's do what we can to survive and then to help others to recover. Regardless of faith or creed, let's protect human life.

It's what Jesus wants us to do.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Open House

Open House, when parents come to school to meet their children's teachers. A year ago, a BAT (Badass Teacher) created this meme to suggest questions for parents to ask teachers. I will answer them.


1.  Which Standardized Tests will be given this year?

Answer: Your child will take the state-mandated End of Course sometime in late April or May. In addition, the District requires two more tests: a 'baseline,' which they take now to see if they know what I haven't taught them yet, the results will be used to judge how good a teacher I am. In December, they will take a 'scrimmage,' so the District can figure out if they will score highly on the state test. If the District is not satisfied with the December results, they will add additional tests to 'monitor progress'. Also, the District does not mandate, but strongly leans on teachers to give unit tests developed by their specialists. These tests do not measure your child's learning; they are used to predict test scores. I refuse to give them.

2. How much class time will be used for these tests?

Answer: Too much, but let me be more specific. The Baseline test and the December test were reduced to one day this year versus two in the past. Add those two days to the two days the State requires and you get a false picture that we will only waste 4 out of 90 (block schedule) instructional days. That is ignoring the necessary review and test prep we will be forced to do--because the District believes we need to teach your child test-taking skills rather than keeping them learning mathematics. 10% of class time would not be far off as a rough estimate.

3. Will these tests be given online or be paper & pencil?

Answer: Online, although research has discovered that online tests result in poorer results than paper & pencil when all other factors are accounted for. So, yeah, the State & District are focused on their needs, not your child's needs. They have never heard a child scream in frustration, "I must be stupid," because the format is too difficult.

4. What is the technology in this building?

Answer: We don't have enough computers. That's why we give the tests over four to six weeks. By the way, when we get a hard downpour, the internet goes out. I would hate for that to happen on the state exam because your child is not allowed to finish the next day. Let's not get started on the bandwidth, when it takes 30 to 40 minutes to get a room of 25 onto the internet and begin the test.

5. When will parents be given the results?

Answer: For a district test, never. For the state test, you do get a report, but it is not detailed enough for you to know what your child did and did not learn. As a teacher, I have no idea. So your child scored answered 3 out of 10 questions correct in Geometric Modeling. Which three questions? Modeling covers measurement formulas for surface area and volume, population density, estimation, and more. I don't have more of a clue than you do. I'm not allowed to review the test or see question by question the scoring results. You will get nothing useful out of it, but then, neither will teachers. If you are now questioning why these tests should be given at all, I have some great groups of people you should join: opt-out networks, parent groups, and there's also this group 56,000 strong known as BATs.

6. What is done with the data from the tests?

Answer: Districts store it on third-party servers that offer data analysis services. In my district, it is Performance Matters. The state keeps the data, the test company keeps the data, the Federal Department of Education requires some reporting ... oh let me put it this way. Have you ever blown a dandelion seedhead into the wind?

7. How will my child's data be protected?

Answer: So my dandelion metaphor didn't explain it. Okay, let me be blunt. It won't.

8. What is the procedure for parents to opt out their children and refuse the standardized test?

Answer: Parents who followed accepted opt-out procedures in Florida last year for 3rd grade reading in punitive districts found that their children were denied promotion to 4th grade. It was pure caprice on the part of the district officials for their schools. The parents sued. They lost. Google '3rd Grade Parents vs. FLDOE.' The real answer is you can't without running the risk of damaging your child's future and happiness as sucky as the actual test experience is. No, the REAL answer is regime change in your state capital. Vote out the incumbents who are destroying public education because they profit from it. Here in Florida, we have a Speaker of the House whose wife started and runs a charter school group, representatives serving on education committees whose family members own and operate charters ... do you get it? Do they get away with their corruption because they are so blatant about it? We will only solve this at the ballot box.

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.