Friday, December 29, 2017

Taking a Knee

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

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

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

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

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

How could this commenter miss the point?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 21, 2017

One Year Turnaround, Final Chapters

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about needing to minimize negative influences.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

One Year Turnaround, Part Seven

The Self-Motivated Student

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will he accomplish the goal of self-motivation?

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

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

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

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

Key is to support the students.

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

Saturday, December 16, 2017

One Year Turnaround, Part Six

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

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

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

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

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

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


One Year Turnaround, Part Five

Continuing with his solution equation, Young turns his attention to his Big Four: professional development, curriculum development, assessment, and remediation.

(This series is a review of The One-Year School Turnaround, by James Young, a former DCPS (FL) principal who now consults with school systems on how to raise a school grade within a year and avoid draconian state sanctions.)

1. Professional Development: Young emphasizes the importance of ongoing teacher learning and development in turnaround schools because they usually have inexperienced staff: new hires, TFA supply, and the like.

He notes the problems with PD for teachers: incompetent or poorly prepared trainers, a lack of preparation via PD for programs school leaders demand teachers implement, overload--so much is provided that there is no time to begin any of it. Further, many teachers attend PD sessions to get their required recertification points. The lessons they learn are not brought back to the school, sometimes because the teacher only went to be excused from teaching duties for a few days (his words, not mine.) He complains that much of the time PD is not aligned with the school improvement plan.

To that list, I can add that PD is unfocused; there is a lack of continuity from one session to the next. There is no follow-up with support for implementation in the classroom. Most PD that takes place during Early Release time consists of district-mandated meetings that waste teachers' time.

Yes, Early Release is a huge waste of time. It produces little actual teacher learning. The time would be better spent with teachers in their classrooms with a full 90 minutes to deliver lessons.

Young insists that the key to PD is an academic coach. He calls for one content-area coach per tested area. He wants PD to be focused on the needs of the school as revealed by student data.

"The principal should ensure most of the coach's time is spent providing training and job-embedded professional development."

In my experience and other coaches that I have known, that rarely happens. It is the rare principal who understands the coach's job and supports them in those responsibilities.

Some principals view their coach as the substitute of first resort: anytime a sub assignment is not filled, the coach is assigned to run the class. Others use their coaches as junior administrators. If they have a math coach, then they think the math department does not need a designated administrator. But coaches support; they do not evaluate. Weak teachers ignore the coach's recommendations because they know that the coach cannot do anything about it. Without administrative support, coaches waste their time. Finally, many principals assign their coaches to take over a struggling teachers classroom--ignoring the fact that all teachers need a coach's presence and support if the position is to produce the across-the-board improvement that is the justification for the position.

Frankly, the school system would be better off returning the coaches to classrooms. I believe the former superintendent was moving in this direction when he began sending assistant principals to coaching seminars.

2. Curriculum Programs: Young has several criticisms of curriculum adoption by districts. It is optimum for each teacher to select their own criteria, but not practical. Nevertheless, he is correct to question why districts continue with ineffective curriculums.

However, his most important point is that the curriculum does not control the teacher, the teacher must control the curriculum, adapting the materials and supplementing as needed to achieve the learning goals.

It is the basic responsibility and authority argument: if anyone is responsible for producing results, they must be given the needed authority to make the decisions.

In actuality, we have moved beyond the times he describes in his book. These days, district staff understand that the guide is just that--a guide.

3. Assessment: Another area of focus. He actually doesn't give much information in this part of his book. He does think that assessments must have the format of state assessments. "This approach ensured students would be familiar with the type of questions on the assessment ...."

Sorry, Mr. Young, but kids aren't that dumb. They are familiar with the formats and how to operate a computer. If not, they get a mandatory practice test before they can take the real thing. It is much more important to focus on what they are learning regardless of format. Often, the only way I can know why a child is not arriving at the correct solution is to give an assessment with problems that a child must solve. Only then can I review the work to determine who doesn't understand the concept, who knows the concept but can't solve a simple algebraic equation, and who gets the answers wrong because they can't add numbers correctly. A test that mimics FSA will not give me that information.

Beyond that, a mimic test puts students into test-taking mode. They focus on how to trick out the right answer rather than working to demonstrate mathematical understanding.

4. Enrichment/remediation: Young concludes this chapter by reviewing the reasons why interventions are rarely effective: someone paid for it so we have to do it, the best teachers are not assigned to do it, volunteer groups are accepted without a vetting to see if they have the needed expertise, extended day programs are mere babysitting, placement is haphazard rather than based on student need (why Saturday School never produces results), the extra instruction does not match what took place during the school day.

One Year Turnaround, Part Four

Having dealt with the preplanning that goes into his Turnaround Solution (capitalized because that is the name of his consulting group), James Young now goes into what he calls the solution equation, part two of his book.

Right away, in chapter four's opening sentence, he reveals the niche he works in: "it is essential to know how a school's grade is calculated." What he offers is a rise in the grade to get a school released from the dreaded state of coming state sanctions.

It is clear from the detail he provides that he has done that in his previous assignments as a principal of a Duval County public school. It is not necessary to describe what he did--overall, the chapter relates how he analyzed FCAT data to understand how his schools were measured. Unfortunately, Florida has moved on from FCAT to the FSA (Florida Standards Assessments).

The game has changed. I checked the copyright date to see when the book was printed (2014), right around the time Florida changed tests and revised its grading formulas. Chapter 4 is out of date and needs to be rewritten. We must rely on Young to understand the nuances of the new system.

For example, learning gains is the hardest category now to produce results whereas before it was the easiest. No one has any idea of how a student is progressing to making learning gains by the FSA measurement, but two years of results have shown that the previous experience of schools scoring 70 or 80% learning gains when the passing rate hovered in the 30% range is over. Learning gains cannot be taken for granted. But no one knows how to predict them.

Wait, someone does. In my subject area, I have taken my school's results and correlated the raw scores (percent of questions answered correctly) to the scale scores used to assign a level (what we call the grade). I have determined the target scale score each of my students must produce to be credited with learning gains. Using interim assessments, I can predict how that student performance would equate to a scale score and whether the student is truly on track or not.

Why is this important? In my content area, mathematics, passing percent is one category, learning gains is another, and learning gains for the lowest 25% is another. Learning gains is two-thirds of the points produced by math. But no one knows how to predict them.

Given Young's description of how he drills into the data (another piece of school data jargon) to identify which students to focus on, it is imperative that he knows how to do this.

Another nuance: no one knows who the bottom quartile is. Unlike FCAT, when last year's test was used to identify these students and schools could work with the students for improvement, the FSA determines the bottom quartile from the current test. The state looks at the lowest scores and then determines if they made learning gains from the current test.

Young makes an important point that a school must recalculate its data at the beginning of the year because the student body from last year is different from this year. He takes the test results of the students currently enrolled and recalculates the school grade. That gives him the true point from which the school is beginning and to set the improvement targets needed for the desired school grade.

But when he talks about setting targets, it gets uncomfortable for teachers. Not only does he set overall targets like we need nine more students for a category, but he breaks that down to each individual teacher and asks them to identify the particular students who are most likely to reach the mark and to concentrate on them.

Many principals have done this across the years: asking teachers to perform triage and ignore those who will pass/make gains on their own and those who are so far behind they cannot improve enough to help the school grade.

When this happens, the focus of the school centers on the institution, not the children it serves.

I understand that the school board has brought James Young into designated schools because a state of emergency exists in the three schools that might be forced to close this year and five more the year after.

It is about survival and sometimes some are sacrificed for the good of the whole.

But school is about providing opportunity to every child, every day, every school, every classroom. Sound familiar?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

One Year Turnaround, Part Three

"Determine the Problem"

Young states the obvious before he issues this blistering criticism: 'Before determining the root causes of failure, school leaders, district and state staff, and consultants try to fix the problem by changing leadership, removing teachers, bringing in a new curriculum, hiring consultants, or implementing new programs. Millions of dollars are spent unnecessarily while schools continue to fail."

Does he put his contract into that category? Sorry, had to get the snark out of the way.

Districts should not use the same plan for every school. He is correct about that. Different schools have different challenges. Often the one plan for all approach simply reveals that district leadership is deficient in understanding its schools. The 'I know best' attitude of the district has been destructive to the goal of helping schools.

"The best time to evaluate schools is in the spring, before school lets out." I've said this for years. School Improvement Plans make no sense to me and when I talked about the process to business people, inevitably I would be met with laughter. No one other than schools opens their door to their clientele and only then begin to make a plan, a yearlong plan that will have only five months before it is evaluated. Young calls this insanity and I agree.

Young expands his critique to how schools are evaluated in that only test data is used. "Test data do not indicate the causes of school failure; test data just indicate the school is failing." The point is well made, but I would argue that test scores from reading and math are not sufficient to conclude that a school is failing. More measures are needed before making that determination.

Young calls for a multi-pronged approach to identifying the causes of a school's problems: individual interviews with students, parents, teachers, staff, and community members; focus groups; surveys; observations.

He makes the important point that if people give their ideas, advice, and feedback, that input should result in visible action. Ignoring the input of stakeholders only causes them to check out of the process. "Even if I was not in favor of some of their suggestions, I made it my business to change, implement, alter, or modify something they requested. It was their school also, so their input mattered."

YES! If only district people would have this attitude!

(I came to this same conclusion decades earlier in business. Sometimes a staff member wanted to do something I was sure wouldn't work. I approved it anyway. First, I could be wrong (DCPS, are you listening?), second, the staff member would be invested in their idea and that might provide the edge to make it work, third, they needed to know their ideas were valued and there is no way to value an idea like allowing the person to do it. If the idea didn't work, I didn't have to kill it; the staff member would do it--no one wants to be a loser. Encouraging a climate of innovation and accepting failure as a part of the growth/learning process ... isn't that what education should be?)

As for observation, years ago it was called Management by Walking Around. Go see what's really taking place rather than sitting in a closed office studying numbers on paper.

Finally, Young calls for research: "lesson planning, the master schedule, extended learning opportunities, and classroom management ..." He admits this takes time, but avers that it is necessary. Only then can a systematic plan be developed.

Mr. Young, you are on point, but the time ... you don't have it for the three schools on the chopping block. I can only assume you are positioning yourself to be the outside management company that must be hired come the end of June.

(The book is 'The One-Year School Turnaround,' by James Young, available on Amazon. I am reading and sharing my review because Mr. Young has been given a $500,000 consultant contract to work with eight schools in my city that are in danger of being closed or charterized under the Florida law known as HB 7069. Young is a former principal in the city.)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

One Year Turnaround, Part Two

"Select the Right People"

This is the chief problem of staffing turnaround schools. The past 3 and one-half years, my district has offered big salary supplements to teachers to transfer to schools identified as 'struggling,' basically any school in the feeder pattern to three of our high schools.

Known as the Quality Education for All program, which quickly garnered other acronyms such as DTO schools, geez can we ever give the naming a rest? the district attempted to bring any teacher with good data, that is test results, to these schools in the naive belief that success in one school transfers to any school.

I predicted that teachers who fell for the gambit would find frustration and fallen status as they found that their previous success depended upon the neighborhoods from which their students came.

Too true. Many high-flying teachers found out the hard way that DCPS demanded a 3-year commitment from them, but the salary bump was contingent on test results.

James Young writes in his second chapter that this uncertainty makes good teachers reluctant to move to a turnaround school. You got that right, James.

But you get other things wrong, such as asking elective teachers to be in other classrooms on their planning periods to support reading and math. No, a drama teacher needs her planning period to grade, reply to parent email, plan new lessons, do the paperwork to get performance rights, etc. A music teacher needs the same. Asking them to forego their planning time to work in a math classroom to do what? Teach children fractions as a means of understanding a time signature on a music piece? No, you are trying to intimidate unprepared teachers to be paraprofessionals in classrooms that undergo state testing. Bad idea.

Do you want to run a school, Mr. Young? Or are you happy being a factory manager, whose factory is test preparation?

Going back to the intro, your job is to see that our threatened schools survive. So do what you need to, but let us not pretend that this is what schools should be doing.

Then you say that teachers who don't know how to teach can be taught, (yes, I put that sentence together deliberately), but teachers who don't know their content area must go.

I agree that teachers who don't know their subject need to exit, but really, you want to make an argument for TFA? Yes, you do: 'Ribault's reading performance doubled with four ELA teachers having a combined total of eighteen months' experience. Two were first-year Teach for America  teachers. One was a second-year Teach for America teacher, and the fourth started in January of the previous year.'

I'll spare you the rest of the quote. At this point, we must remind ourselves that test scores mean nothing more than how well students can negotiate a test. TFA recruits are good at this. Young's job is to raise test scores (Maslow's lowest level: the need to survive), but let's not pretend that this is anything more.

Play the game, hire TFA. You want to know why experienced teachers who went through traditional colleges don't get the best test scores? Because if you really teach for student understanding, if you really understand the developmental stages and needs of the kids you teach, and if you deliver lessons that produce that, you don't get the best test scores.

That is the trade-off every teacher has to make. Do what's best for children and get the lowest scores in the building.

Let's not get started on charter schools. KIPP? Test-prep factory that is so abusive to teachers that its annual churn of staff is mind-boggling.

Again, Young was hired to see that our threatened schools raise test scores. Let's skip ahead to what he has to say about assistant principals.

He demands that principals should be allowed to hire their APs. (Never going to happen.)

What he wants is for a principal to hire APs who are competent in the many areas of administration and can handle the demands and paperwork of a system such that the principal is free to concentrate on instruction.

What he looks for in an AP: they want to be at the school, they want to be a principal (don't they all?), they have instructional knowledge (so that the principal can assign them a content area to oversee), they have a skill set that the principal lacks (oh, yes, it is an exceptional principal who will admit to a deficit and seek out people who can fill it--but this is true of leadership everywhere), they are creative, independent thinkers. By which he means that he wants no yes-people, but persons who will say what they think.

Lastly, he wants academic coaches, one for every five teachers in an 'accountability area,' that is, any course that is tested by the state and is used to calculate a school grade.

Good luck with that, Mr. Young. I was an instructional coach and I wasted my years trying to do the job. I was good, but my principals didn't understand what a coach was supposed to do. I was given extra duties that prevented me from being in classrooms. Freed of those duties, I found myself saddled with a principal who thought a coach was a substitute teacher. You would do better in putting those people back into the classroom, which would reduce class sizes.

Oh, wait, you want TFA people. They do need a coach. Not to coach their teaching, but to school them in the crucial pedagogy that they lack. Oops, maybe a college program of teacher education would be better?

One Year Turnaround, Part One

"Place the Right Principal."

How true that is. A few years ago I said at a family gathering that the principal was the key figure in the building, not the teachers, expecting pushback, but everyone agreed with me.

Your child's teacher is the second most important person at your school. A good principal makes mediocre teachers effective; an ineffective principal makes it impossible for great teachers to be great.

James Young makes an important point. Not all good principals are up to the turnaround job. It doesn't mean they are incompetent, but their skill set and temperament are not well matched to the dire and immediate needs of a school targeted for closure.

What does he think a turnaround principal needs?

     "Common Sense:" He bemoans principals who put their best teachers into class assignments that do not factor into the school accountability classes. In other words, why would a principal assign their most effective teachers the calculus and statistics classes when the tested courses are Algebra 1 and Geometry? There is an answer to that, and ironically, Young himself gives it in a subsequent chapter: Because teachers should be assigned to the courses for which they have the content knowledge. A 6 - 12 certificate does not mean that a teacher is equally competent for all the courses that fall under that certification.

     "Confidence:" Confidence is contagious, he claims. The principal should be cocky and exhibit the demeanor of Muhammed Ali, 'I'm the Greatest!' Have the attitude of a trash talker, not a tennis player. Tennis players believe they will win but will never claim victory before the match. Boxers boast of victory before the bout. This is a bad metaphor and could cause people to wonder if the School Board was duped in hiring Young. Is he good or merely braggadocious? Will he deliver? Can he deliver?

     However, good leadership projects an attitude of confidence, of a certainty that things will work out, that people need not worry. This is very helpful in stressful situations. But it works better as a quiet certitude rather than as loud, obnoxious declarations of victory before the battle begins.

     "Principles:" The principal has to be motivated to accomplish good things for children. This is about motivation: pass over anyone who will take on a school because the extra bump in pay is sweet, anyone who doesn't want to be there but they get pressganged into the location, and anyone without experience. A turnaround school should not be the first assignment for a rookie. We can all agree on these points.

     "Innovative Risk Taker:" This basically means trying out ideas, discarding quickly what doesn't work and reinforcing what does. It means letting school personnel advance ideas and experiment. It means bucking  'the district knows best' and 'stop doing that, dammit, we didn't authorize it' attitudes of district personnel. Here I need to insert one of those applause emojis.

     "Experienced." Here he directly criticizes the practice of promoting assistant principals and placing them in a turnaround school. Very true. In one of the three schools on the chopping block, the principal is in his second year of his very first principalship. He's a good man and has the experience and knowledge to run a school. However, he was tossed into an impossible situation. He was set up to fail, as Young indicates in his book, principals should not be assigned to such schools until they have a track record of success. When he was promoted, the teachers at his old school celebrated. I had twinges of sadness because the district was looking for a bagman--someone to hold the bag of blame when the school failed. This man is much better than that. Lately, the media have reported that he is among the people who were told that he would be out of a job if the schools are taken over by an outside entity.

     DCPS demands absolute loyalty, but they feel no compunction to return it.

     "Decisive:" The turnaround principal must move fast. There is no time to support struggling teachers who are not effective. He calls this 'unfortunate.' Hard decisions must be made. 'If a grade of C is mandatory, the school cannot take a chance of keeping an instructor wh can cause the school to stay in turnaround status.'

     There is a certain truth to this, but it is very unfair to teachers who often have been in impossible situations with no support. How does he know who is ineffective because of a lack of expertise at their craft and who simply needs supports that previous ineffective principals have not provided? Seems like there will be a lot of collateral damage this month at the schools he has obtained.

     Where is the union in all of this? Teri Brady, are you paying attention?

     "Motivation." Young writes that working at a turnaround school is a tough job. 'Teachers question why they chose to work in a failing school and have a class full of low-performing students. The work tires them; they work late, work weekends, and get so little appreciation. The principal has to find a way to keep them motivated.'

     Very true. Unfortunately, it is often the district staff that does the disrespecting of school-based personnel that provides the demotivation. It's funny that DCPS keeps citing surveys that show teachers are happier about what is going on at their schools. A lack of morale plagues the school system. It is not school leadership that is the problem; it is the district. Yet DCPS never surveys teachers about themselves. They must be afraid to ask the questions that would reveal their warts.

     "Positive:" Well, yes. If the principal is down on the school, everyone else will be.

     "Efficient Time Manager:" The principal needs a good staff and should delegate tasks to them so he/she can concentrate on improving student outcomes.

     "Dedicated." Young reinforces his message that the only principal for a turnaround school is one who wants to be there.

Yes, you're saying, who doesn't know this? But Mr. Young does not have the luxury of picking his principals. The women and men in the buildings are who he must work with, the ones who must make it work ... that is the frustration of being a consultant. If they are not the right people, he must make them the right people. There is no time for a change.

Perhaps this will be his greatest challenge as he walks in the doors of the eight schools he has agreed to turn around.

One Year Turn-Around, Introduction

The Duval County (Florida) school district hired a consultant and former principal to work with its schools most in danger of closure under the draconian law known as HB 7069. In particular, three schools must earn a C grade through the 2018 FSAs or they will be turned over to outside management.

The school board agreed to a contract that brings in Turnaround Solutions for about $500,000 to work with the schools in danger. The founder and chief of that company is James Young, who wrote a book describing his success in turning around schools and laying out the plan.

That brought my interest to Mr. Young. I purchased a copy of his book to review. I originally thought it would be one post, especially after the book arrived and there are only 100 pages to go through. But as I work my way through, Mr. Young raises weighty issues that need more thought and comment. So the review will be in several posts.

At the outset, let us recognize that for the three schools in danger, it is less than a year that Mr. Young has to work his magic. He has five months.

As we look at the promise and ponder the anticipated performance, let us discard the concern that he is the partner of the current head of Human Resources, Sonita Young. If James Young has the bona fides as he claims, that is irrelevant. As for a certain board member who complained after the contract approval that he did not know, <sigh> do your due diligence before you vote, man. You sound like a Republican senator who voted for a tax plan with handwritten edits made on the floor that you didn't get a chance to read. If you didn't read it, you should have voted no.

Also, Young is bringing in people to help: the Roziers, Lawrence Dennis, others. That should not be a concern. To do the job, he will have to have help. These people are familiar with the district and have the knowledge needed for the job. That district politics dissed some of them should not give cause for concern. In particular, I have had interactions with Dennis and he has the chops to improve schools. Too bad Ed Pratt-Dannals effectively demoted him when EPD wanted to look out for his pals in a restructuring that DCPS indulges in biennially.

James Young is not going into these schools to tour, criticize, and ignore for months. He is on a mission for improvement and to keep our schools ours. With that in mind, let us consider what he has to say.

First, let us say that we are not talking about failing schools. The issue of school failure is one that goes way beyond his contract. What is a failing school? How do we know schools are failing? If you answer the school grade, you are wrong. School grades measure only test performance and performance on poorly designed, poorly implemented, and even then, normed tests that only measure how well students manage their way through the test in comparison to other students. School grades tell you nothing about how well a school is meeting the public's expectations and needs of children.

James Young admits in his introduction that he is after test scores. His niche falls on the bottom level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: survival. However bad the system is, however bad the law is, however bad the Florida Department of Education and the state Board of Education write regulations and trash public schools, those are the rules of the game. His job is to show others how to play the game, win, and survive.

We must understand this or we will not understand what he says.

He will work to see that our schools survive.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Fresh Eggs, Advent One 2017

Warm up the egg nog (put on the stretch pants,) it's time for a random collection of thoughts.

1. The Republicans finally get a win. Now the two competing tax bills have to become one through the conference procedure. Most likely, the Senate version with adjustments will prevail because the Senate must preserve a version that meets their reconciliation rules lest they open the chamber to a Democrat filibuster.

2. The life lesson that it is always dangerous to believe one's own line of <ahem, think garbage, nonsense, you figure out the word> is in play. The Republicans really believe that their bill will benefit the working poor and middle class. Once those tax bills begin going up, we will see a political tsunami in Washington.

3. Cue up the top 10 list from 1973: With Michael Flynn cutting a deal and cooperating, a whole lot more <ahem> is coming in 2018. 1973 Top Ten songs

4. If the surrounding countries would support the logistics, we could flatten the Taliban in Afghanistan. Take them out. However, that would mean the deaths of too many innocent civilians and of those who are left, we would receive their undying hatred. Something worse would appear. That's a nuance that Trump doesn't get.

5. Same thing with North Korea and the chest-beating line that we are going to be tougher now. War is not an option because any action on the peninsula would bring action from China.

6. You want to get North Korea's goat? Take a lesson from a teacher: planned ignoring. That is the one thing that drives them crazy.

7. In her latest appearance, Betsy Devos is reported to have delivered a message to her opponents (teachers, teachers' unions, people who actually know something about education): I'm not going away. That's okay, Betsy, neither are we.

8. It's been reported before, but we pay $1,000,000 a month for a security detail for Devos. If I was president, that alone would be enough for a sacking, but doesn't the woman ever wonder why she feels threatened? And if she were truly the conservative she pretends to be, she wouldn't allow the government to pay for it but would spend the chump change from her investments (she is a billionaire, after all) for her security detail.

9. The Democrats remain hapless on the state level because, while they solicit donations, they never ask for help. I would spend my weekends working tirelessly in Florida for a change in power in Tallahassee, but they don't seem interested.

10. I don't know whether to be happy or angry about my upcoming week at work. My district has expanded its midyear testing to two days, which means that the entire week will be wasted. No learning will be happening in my classroom. Now if the testing gave me useful insights ... no, wait, the purpose of this testing is for the district to predict what test scores will be in April. It's useless for a classroom teacher.

11. District testing always gripes me because the people who run it put on airs. They surround it with threats and intimidation as if it was a state exam. They forbid teachers to even look at the test when the superintendent sends out emails telling teachers to go over the test with students after the testing period ends. Then, they say we can review questions with the class, but only by displaying a question and lecturing children. We are not allowed to have the students rework problems at their desk. How out of touch to think that children will sit still for 90 minutes while an adult drones about something they don't have even the remotest interest in.

12. We had a bomb threat this past week, but it didn't make the news. Instead of an evacuation, we went on a Code Red. Turn the lights out, drop to the floor, stay away from windows, and absolute silence ... which makes sense, because as everyone knows, bombs have ears and can walk around the building.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Don Juan

I have often wondered why I bear much antipathy toward our current President. He is a blowhard, one of the worst, yet that has been the source of whatever genius he possesses for self-promotion and self-branding.

Donald Trump came to the nation's attention in the late 1970s as he was an early developer of hotel casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, a time when the only legal place of gambling was in the cities of Nevada. New Jersey hoped that authorizing gambling would rejuvenate a tired beachside resort whose glory days had faded long before.

At first, he was perceived to have a Midas touch, that the Trump name was a guarantee of lucrative success, but alas, his third casino was up the boardwalk and had trouble drawing clientele. It folded into bankruptcy and the allure of the Trump name faded.

But D.J. was not to be easily foiled. He found bankruptcy a useful policy for shedding unwanted losses in his developments and expanded his brand across an incredible product line in the years to come. His talent for self-promotion created a new brand of Trump: the Tiffany of ties, suits, steaks, whatever he could think of.

The Donald was not one to let his fate rest in the hands of others. In one of the more hilarious moments of his career, he created an alter ego as his PR agent so that he could talk directly to the media and promote himself without the crassness that comes when a person blatantly engages in self-promotion.

This, then, is the background of the man who decided he had to be president. When he entered the primaries, I thought him a demagogue, full of ego, running to show that it would be his next triumph, that he was a better politician than the politicians. I thought him then as exploiting the resentments of poor whites for votes, the resentments of white labor for lost jobs, the resentments of many who thought the establishment party politicians had betrayed them.

Stark honesty is needed in these times. What Trump exploited was a latent racism, the people he was attracting blamed black people among others for their woes. Trump made it okay to openly display racist attitudes.

Not only did he exploit it, but the first year of his presidency has shockingly revealed that he shares it. His moral equivalency between fascists and those who oppose them, his encouragement of violence at his campaign rallies, his embrace of the alt-right and the white supremacists that populate it, and his relentless attacks on immigrants shows he also has a latent racism that is now showing through the veneer of his character.

Make America Great Again means, in Trump talk, restore the days of discrimination and segregation when the power of the federal government stood idly by while states violated the rights, property, and lives of nonwhite citizens.

Donald John Trump, the ultimate narcissist. He makes everything about him. Today's latest lie about Time Magazine approaching him to ask his permission to repeat as Person of the Year no longer surprises us. His demand that everyone give him sole credit for the release of the UCLA basketball players in China shows he is incapable of recognizing the contribution of anyone else. The false historical plaques he erects at his golf courses, the phony magazine covers, the ridiculous fawning at cabinet meetings that is recorded and shared that reminds me of Roman senator complaints about what they had to do to remain in Caligula's favor ...

Maybe that would be tolerable if it weren't for the fact that Donald J. Trump is a cyber bully. Lavar Ball is but the latest Twitter target. You don't go against Trump without suffering his twaddling thumbed response. Trump can't let it go. He can't let anything go. It's not merely an insistence on having the last word; it's a psychological need to beat down anyone who won't worship him and his self-characterized benevolence of his majesty.

He can't abide criticism. He is legitimately confused that people might disagree with him. The reports are believable of how hard he has found it to realize that there are people who genuinely dislike him. Given his hype of being the ultimate deal-maker, which has fallen woefully short in diplomacy and politics, perhaps he finds everything as a maneuver to improve a negotiating position.

The greatest target of his bullying was Megyn Kelly, then of Fox News. She had the audacity to ask him:

Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don't use a politician's filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women. You've called women you don't like 'fat pigs,' 'dogs,' 'slobs' and 'disgusting animals.' ...

Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women's looks. You once told a contestant on 'Celebrity Apprentice' it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.

Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?"

Trump spent the next year abusing Kelly on Twitter to the point where she was afraid to go out of the house lest she run into his supporters. He doubled down whenever the issue was raised and Kelly did not find relief until she requested a meeting with him at Trump Tower. One can only suppose Trump relented because he then viewed her as a supplicant begging for divine mercy.

Despite his huge ego, the 45th president of the United States has no talent for governing. His first attempt at setting up an administration looked like an attempt to replicate his reality show, "The Apprentice," which featured two competing teams trying to win his favor and a job. Everyone else was fired and, as last spring and summer have shown us, that's about what happened.

He doesn't understand why we have a legislature. He would rather rule by dictate, or as his pals the Russians would say, by decree.

He is right about McConnell, though. McConnell also has no talent for running a tight ship, although dealing with massive senatorial egos is no easy job. But Harry Reid managed it and Chuck Schumer seems to be keeping his caucus together.

As a libertarian-leaning idealist pragmatist (you're going to have a job unpacking that one!), I too want a small government yet I realize we live in big government times. We have to deal with reality and the federal government cannot be torn down into the size it held during George Washington's day.

Trump has yet to complete his staffing of leadership at the cabinet departments in the belief that if he withholds the people, the departments will dwindle in size and impact. But in doing so, he takes away the counterweight of the people against the oligarchs who would rule us.

He holds forth as a populist, but claims to be a billionaire. He wants to turn over all functions of the government to private enterprise, whether appropriate or not. Whether we like it or not, there are jobs that government is best suited for: maintaining military forces, domestic security (police and fire departments), education, and courts, including facilities for housing criminals.

Finally, there is the Don Juan angle, which ironically is Trump's name in Spanish. It has come to light that even as a young man, he was to be avoided as an octopus whose tentacles were always groping toward women's bodies. His many affairs, his ribald comments, among which he lusted after his daughter and bragged of what he can get away with, are disgusting.

I bear great antipathy towards The Donald, now I know why, and I have shared it with you. I will oppose all that he has in mind to do because the one inescapable conclusion is that he does not have the good of this country and its people in mind.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Requiem Evangelical Church

Time was when the Evangelical Church and the people who called themselves Evangelicals were obsessed with sin. The tiniest sin, even the most minuscule, was cause for guilt and anguish over the salvation of one's soul.

Old men smoking cigarettes, caught in the addiction of nicotine, blamed their lack of character and condemned their souls. Fortunately, that was not scriptural and their faith saved them.

Anyhow, the focus of evangelicals over sin was directed inward. Their outward focus was saving souls or bringing others to the Christian faith.

Historically, the Evangelical Church was one that housed the Holiness Movement, intent on improving one's life to the high standard they found in the scripture of the Bible. They used social pressure to bring about the holiness desired. For example, a woman wearing jewelry was not condemned for a sin, but would be met with questions as to why she wanted to put unnecessary adornment on her body.

Evangelicals were often perceived as moralistic and judging as they tolerated no sin in public officials. Even a whiff of scandal would be enough to lose their support and usually cause the official to be put out of office.

Evangelicals expected their public officials, especially those they elected, to live up to high standards and would condemn indiscretions with vehemence regardless of the consequences, for example, if the resignation of a senator would cause someone with views they opposed to gain the position.

How times have changed.

Perhaps it began with abortion--when the zealotry to protect unborn life led to a disregard for other life.

Perhaps it began with the push for gay rights when Evangelicals vehemently opposed the lifestyle until they found that some of their children were gay.

Maybe it was that the accumulating descent from the middle class as good-paying jobs departed from the land caused many to find themselves threatened with a decline of wealth and status.

Maybe their focus changed from saving others to saving themselves and not in a spiritual sense.

Or maybe they have taken offense that others not as themselves are progressing up the ladder. And like low-status chickens, they will peck hardest at those beneath to keep those underlings in their place.

Maybe Evangelicals are ignoring sin for the promise that their position will be maintained.

You know who we're talking about. A latent racism, long buried, has been rearing its ugly head in the aftermath of the Trump campaign and achievement of the presidency.

The time for politeness has passed although I do not recommend starting family quarrels at the Thanksgiving table. Yet, we must call out what we see taking place: Evangelicals, those who are right-wing conservative Christians, are backing immoral men because those men promise to restore the days when black people had less rights than others.

They should return to their Holiness days and examine their lives, their souls. Until then, it is Requiem for a movement that once drove improvement for all persons throughout the world because it has fallen.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Look for the Union Label

Yesterday I spent my Saturday morning at one of the Strategies for Student Success sessions provided by my teachers' union, Duval Teachers United. Actually, the content is provided by AFT, the American Federation of Teachers, who trains local teachers to run the sessions.

The professional development (PD) session was about the brain and student learning and how to utilize good strategies based upon research to understand the development stages of students and use to maximum effect the current status of their growth to maximize learning.

Hmm, the paragraph probably needs some editing for clarity. I hope you get what I am trying to say.

It was very helpful to me as the session led me to think about acquiring vocabulary in a new way.

There is some frustration in teaching Geometry, which has an abundance of new words, theorems, postulates, etc. to learn, and seeing students struggle to cope with the demand. Now I have new insight: learning new words and associating meaning is a task for the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which we know from research is the last part of the body to mature. Not until age 25 is a human fully 'cooked' as far as having the entire capacity of the body.

Students have difficulty learning the technical vocabulary because their brains don't have the full capacity for it. That's not to say they can't do it, but we have to tailor our learning strategies to their capacities.

For that insight alone, it was worth 4 hours (unpaid) of my time. I have much to research and ponder, but now I am moving in the right direction.

"Look for the Union Label." I may sound silly, but I am seriously impressed with the quality of the PD available through my union as developed by AFT. It is much better than most of what the district provides, and the equal of anything I have ever received even when the Schultz Center was in full swing as the PD arm of the district.

Last Spring, I did another PD through the union: Managing Anti-Social Behavior. It was my first time. I only did it to satisfy the ESE 20 hour requirement for renewing my Florida Certificate. BUT! It gave me good information. I gained insight into why that difficult child I could do nothing with was so difficult. She matched the ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) profile.

I am not a psychologist; therefore, I am not saying she was ODD. But knowing that she matched the profile and I could understand her behavior that way helped me in dealing with her difficulties.

I was and remain impressed by the quality and just plain usefulness of the training available through the union.

Whereas DCPS is a hit-or-miss affair.

Teachers, when you're doing your IPDP (individual professional development plan), look for the union label! You won't find anything better.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Public School Advantage

In their 2014 book, The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools*, authors Christopher A. Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski have this bold conclusion:

Despite what many reformers, policymakers, media elites, and even parents may believe, public schools are, on average, actually providing a relatively effective educational service relative to schools in the independent sector ... while this challenges the very basis of the current movement to remake public education based on choice, competition, and autonomy, our analyses indicate that public schools are enjoying an advantage in academic effectiveness because they are aligned with a more professional model of teaching and learning. (emphasis mine.)

Wow. Perhaps this is why the current Secretary of Education, along with leading 'reformers,' no longer considers the quality of the school important, only that the parents had a choice for their children.

How did the authors reach this conclusion? Their book has seven chapters, each of which carefully builds their argument:

1. Chapter One: Conflicting Models for Public Education. Here the authors describe the differing models we have for organizing education: Politics, in which the principle is local, democratic control of schools, as has existed for much of our nation's history; Science, in which the principle is a quasi-monopoly over education by experts (graduates of educational institutions, that is, teaching colleges) who are presumed to understand theories and evidence of how children learn and are deemed best at providing education; Markets, in which the principle is competition among schools as providers of education and consumer choice.

There is a tension between these models and the Lubienskis note that "Americans have never settled on a single model ... which suggests one of the primary reasons for dissatisfaction with education in this country." Further, they state the basis for the fierceness of the debate surrounding the future of public education, "Any one model cannot predominate without invalidating important values  and upsetting important constituencies associated with the other two competing models."

Finally, they set up their research and report by framing the question about the choices available today and the models from which they originate: [Does] "the higher achievement in private schools reflect greater private school effectiveness or simply the more advantaged family backgrounds of the students who attend these schools"?

It is not an easy question to answer as there are many variables to consider. In the remainder of the book, the Lubienskis sort through them, identify their effect on the data (which is results of NAEP in fourth and eighth grades and ECLS-K, a longitudinal source that tracks progress from kindergarten to fifth grade.)

2. Chapter Two: The Theory of Markets for Schooling. Here the authors describe the economic theories espoused by Milton Friedman, followed and built upon by many others, for the superiority of the market model. They note many criticisms and weaknesses of the model. We begin to understand that the authors are questioning the assumptions underlying the market theory, which they will see if the data supports.

3. Chapter Three: The Private School Effect. The authors review the generally-perceived advantages of private school of greater autonomy and higher test performance, but then deliver the surprising conclusion of studies that show that achievement gaps between students of differing backgrounds are the same among all sectors, public, parochial, private, and charter! It seems that these persistent gaps are not the result of school inputs into instruction, but are related to family background and peers.

4. Chapter Four: Achievement in Public, Charter, and Private Schools. The authors use the NAEP data to isolate the numerous variables affecting the data to see which ones are irrelevant and which ones actually affect student learning. Carefully working through school characteristics, including climate issues and students' attitudes toward school (NAEP includes extensive survey questions to gather data about the students taking their test), then adjusting for socio-economic demographics, the Lubienskis are able to demonstrate that public schools actually outperform all others, including private schools and charter schools.

5. Chapter Five: The Effectiveness of Public and Private Schools. The authors mention the rebuttal to their NAEP findings, which is a theoretical argument since no one has ever presented evidence to support it, that the NAEP is a one-time or cross-sectional test, in which students newly enrolled in other sectors are the worst performing students whose parents searched for an alternative. The school sector has not had the time to work its magic.

To answer that, the Lubienskis turn to a longitudinal study (these are studies that follow a student throughout their years to see what happens over a long period of time), the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Again, they find that adjusting for the many variables that exist in the data, including socio-economic status and the peer effect, that is, what effect does being among more advantaged peers have on a less advantaged child, public schools produce better outcomes than the alternatives. The most influential factor remains family background. The longitudinal study confirms the findings of the NAEP.

6. Chapter Six: Understanding Patterns of School Performance. Having established the better performance of public schools from the data, the Lubienskis now dig into the causes. They look at school size, class size, and school climate and find that the differences among sectors are mostly due to socio-economic demographics. Then they consider teacher certification and professional development. Here they uncover a link between these items and improved achievement when the profesional development is centered on content and student thinking.

They move on to consider the reforms in instructional practices. They find that non-public school sectors, including charters, use the instructional autonomy to avoid the best practices identified by organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and that is a reason why public schools do better. That is, public schools, with far less autonomy, implement the best practices and achieve better results. Other sectors use their freedom to retain outdated practices, such as worksheet drills.

7. Chapter Seven: Reconsidering Choice, Competition, and Autonomy as the Remedy in American Education. The Lubienskis wrap up with a discussion as to why parents would not choose the most economic sector available--the free public school. They note the weakness with economic models in that people do not always act rationally or they have other values that cannot be measured in monetary values. Families may choose a school for safety reasons, not achievement reasons, for example.

They briefly recap the many motivations of the chief actors in school reform, and then turn to three assumptions about education that their results show the evidence does not support: One, public schools are failing (they are not); Two, consumer choice is better (it is not, families do not have access to all the information they need to evaluate their choices effectively); Three, Competition Spurs Improvement (it does not, it spurs competitors to seek advantages through deceptive marketing, political influence, and excluding undesired, low performing students.)

Public schools really are the best schools and, if we want better outcomes for all children, our society needs to begin providing the resources for the schools and the social supports for the families that are needed to overcome their difficulties. It really boils down to a one word explanation: poverty.

*Available from the University of Chicago press,

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The 2017 GOP Tax Plan

Tax simplification has not been attempted since 1986, 31 years ago. The idea is simple in its glamor: Make the calculation of federal income taxes so simple that anyone can file a return on a postcard. Three or four lines is all that's needed:

  1. Here's what I made.
  2. Here's what I owe.
  3. Here's what I paid.
  4. The difference.
Unfortunately, as we discovered in 1986, a tax structure that simple often results in inequities, an unfairness that penalizes some taxpayers and rewards others as individual circumstances differ.

Enter 2017, a year after the Republicans won control of the federal government that has not been seen since the days of the New Deal. They want to make good on one of their major campaign promises: a tax cut.

To accomplish that, they are proposing a simplification plan. They will eliminate the special categories of deductions, credits, and delays (401K plans, for example) in order to double the standard deduction and lower rates.

The trade-off is that what people will lose will be more than offset by the lower level of taxable income and the rate that is applied.

Much will be dropped. Here are two run-downs:

While informative, these viewpoints are flawed because both sources opine on the cruelty of lawmakers while ignoring the proposal's basic philosophy that eliminating special categories of tax breaks will benefit all taxpayers. What people lose in tax breaks, they will gain back through lower rates.

Of course, this has yet to be seen. But I would advise people to ignore the emotional pitch and wait for the analyses that will come from foundations and think tanks showing who will gain and who will lose under the proposal before deciding whether to support or oppose the plan.

I myself will lose the 'above the line' deduction for educator expenses; yet, I will have lower taxes if the proposal becomes law. Personally, the plan will benefit me. (Don't take that to mean I am in favor of it. I am following my advice; I am waiting for analyses to understand the full implications of what will come if the plan becomes law.)

Of most interest to me is NOT what is being dropped from the tax code, but what is being preserved or added. For example, a new education savings account for private school tuition for K-12 schools. Money placed into such accounts and then spent for private schools would be tax-free. That is something that will only benefit those who can already afford private school tuition. They don't need the tax break, but hey, as a TV commercial campaign told us long ago, "Wealth has its privileges."

I wonder what else is buried in the thousands of pages of the bill. In fact, I wonder why a simplification bill needs more than ten pages.

If I could cite another slogan, "Enquiring minds want to know."

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Next Superintendent

I'm not likely to get to one of the community meetings in the next two weeks to offer input into the selection of the next superintendent for Jacksonville's schools. Therefore, like every good and greatly introverted person, I'll write about it and share.

Jacksonville's next superintendent should have these characteristics:

1. Humility. An ego-driven superintendent who views the schools as being all about him/her will exhaust our capacity to carry on the hard work of education. It's a daily grind and we need to be led by someone who sees the role as one of service, not being served with an active, unceasing PR campaign in the media.

2. Experience. Not superintendent experience, that would be a good thing but it is not essential for me. The next superintendent should have a minimum ten years of classroom experience, being a teacher, and a minimum ten years of administrative experience in a school, of which at least five years are being the principal. Nothing less will ensure that the superintendent has the empathy and understanding for students, teachers, and administrators who daily engage in the hard work of education.

3. A Broad Philosophy of Public Education. Our superintendent should understand that our schools are more than vehicles of imparting information, training workers, and inculcating compliance to the directions of 'betters.' Public education should never be about the test and the year-long course of instruction geared to prepping children to pass the test. Our city provides a system of public schools to guide children through their developmental stages, encouraging their curiosity about the world, exposing them to new ways of thinking and understanding, assisting them in understanding their responsibilities and privileges as citizens, and helping them find their passions that will carry them through long lives that provide great satisfaction.

Our schools have the task of seeing that our children's needs are provided: food, safety, health, and belonging. Our schools are our communities and are much more than the test scores and school grades that the State of Florida assigns them every year. The next superintendent should understand this.

4. Chutzpah. The next superintendent should not be a 'reformer,' but someone willing to fight for our schools and our children, someone who doesn't confuse test performance with actual learning, someone who will oppose the dictates of the political class when those dictates ignore the actual needs of children because wealth can be gained when privatization takes place.

5. An Understanding of the Neighborhood School as an Institution. A superintendent must understand the significance of a school to its neighborhood, especially neighborhoods that place lower on the socio-economic scale. Our schools are community institutions. They provide identity. They are an anchor in the sea that surrounds them. They are places of safety. Their existence stabilizes their communities from accelerated decline. These schools should not be closed; their families, teachers, and principals should not be threatened with dire consequences. These institutions must be maintained and supported.

6. Beyond a Willingness to Listen, A Willingness to Follow What is Heard. The heart of a superintendent should be that of a servant-leader. Someone who doesn't see the position as an aggrandizement of self, but someone who understands that the superintendent serves all. Someone who doesn't go on listening tours to cut off criticism or curry favor, but someone who takes the feedback and acts upon it. Someone who doesn't stick to preconceived notions, but can actually follow the will of stakeholders even if it conflicts with what the superintendent believes.

7. Acceptance of Democratic Control of Schools. Not democratic as in the political party, but democratic as in the citizens control the schools through their elected school board members. The next superintendent should understand that his/her bosses are the seven board members, not Gary Chartrand, not the other wealthy/political elite in the city, not the Jacksonville Public Education Fund. The superintendent works for the Board of Education.

8. Honesty and integrity. It is difficult for democratic control to be effective when a superintendent is dissembling about such matters as budgets, affirming that funds are in place when in fact the superintendent only anticipates that funds will materialize. The next superintendent must be willing to openly disclose the challenges and difficulties that are faced in addressing school issues.

9. An Understanding of the Learning Process. A superintendent must understand how children actually learn as they pass through the developmental processes of their age and be willing to secure to children those learning environments. Young children must play. Older children need to explore. Indulging curiosity is huge. Adolescents need to be free to challenge and be challenged. Technology is not the answer. The next superintendent should know that computer-based learning programs have their place, but are not a panacea. They are but tools placed into the hands of teachers, who wield them appropriately to guide children in learning. Real books cannot be replaced.

10. A Drive to Get Everything Out of a Teacher's Life That Inhibits Teaching: stupid paperwork done simply because some bureaucrat wants paperwork, scripted lessons, district staff whose only purpose is to inspect teachers for compliance to dictates, the list is endless. The next superintendent should remove the chains and let Duval's teachers show what they can do. It will be amazing.

Here is a link for more information and the times/dates/locations of community meetings:

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Teach For America, dammit ... 'Cause We're Better

With falling of autumn leaves, we get another defense of the controversial program, Teach For America. The argument falls along familiar lines: TFA teachers get better results, TFA teachers don't leave after two years, TFA teachers are better than long-term substitutes.

The latest serving appeared in the Florida Times-Union Wednesday, October 18:

The writer makes three arguments, which I shall answer:

1. Given the teacher shortages that exist, TFA fills positions that would otherwise require substitutes, who don't have the necessary qualifications to bring about student learning.

Stone Eggs: You have a point. If the Yankees, playing the last game against the Houston Astros for the League Championship, needed a pitcher and none were available, I would be a better selection than a 6-year old wunderkind at T-ball. But I suck at sports. I couldn't put a pitch in the strike zone to save my life. This argument really has no merit.

Stop saying we're better than nothing and show how you are prepared, as a TFA recruit with 5 weeks of summer training, are qualified to step into a classroom. Describe that training! What are you doing in those five weeks that makes you the equal of a teacher-college graduate, who has spent four years preparing for the job?

2. 60% of TFA teachers remain in the classroom beyond their commitment, which is better than the retention rate for other teachers.

Stone Eggs: We need a source for this claim. Ooh, I kept reading your column and find that this is your personal experience as you keep up with your friends. Hmm, anecdotal evidence is not persuasive when it comes to citing statistics. Or did you get the percent from TFA, a source that is biased?

And what time period are you dealing with? Are you comparing two-year TFA retention versus 5-year general retention? 

3. TFA corps members get better results than teachers, veteran and rookie, from traditional colleges of education.

Stone Eggs: You claim this because of test results. A test that is invalid and unreliable, a test that is so bad that a 28% rate of providing correct answers is deemed a passing score.

This is where all educational 'reform' falters. You say you produce better test results and pretend that means students learned better under your tutelage.

You are wrong. Could I ask what research you follow? Because everything that I read, done under carefully-controlled studies to eliminate the odd variable, says that test-preparation (and frankly, that is what you are trained to do) produces better test results, but a more poorly educated student.

Attack me if you will. No, I don't get the best test results in my building, much less my district. But my students are desired by teachers in the next year because they are the best prepared to move on, because I work on actual learning and understanding.

That is the irony of the Common Core. It creates the circumstances that produce the exact opposite of what it says it is after: critical and creative thinking.

Now for what you won't say: TFA is a <expletive-deleted>, yes I come from the Nixon era, expensive program.

If I give you all that you claim, you would still fail on a cost-benefit analysis. The latest DCPS contract with TFA ( would bring in TFA recruits at a cost of $6,000 or higher.

That is not money that goes anywhere except into the very rich pockets of Teach For America, which at the end of 2016 held $343,162,094 in net assets.


I don't think I need to say anymore. TFA is a pecuniary, self-serving institution that decades ago lost sight of its (unneeded) mission.

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:

(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.


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.

     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.

     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.