Last night Kafkateach “managed the impossible” and listened to an entire School Board meeting from start to finish. My previous record was about 30 minutes of audio torture before I started to contemplate dark thoughts about how to destroy my radio. I subjected myself to four hours of sychophantic self-congratulatory dribble because I was waiting to hear two colleagues’ voices of dissent in regards to testing and violation of the class size amendment. Here’s a brief rundown of what I learned last night for those of you who found a more enjoyable way to spend a rare cold and rainy South Florida evening:

  1. Expect to see a new charter or magnet school themed around computer gaming or computer code. It seems like every time I tune into a School Board meeting somebody is demanding more computer coding in schools. The ticker on our website now says “the hour of code is here.” I would imagine this new school will possibly be built in Aventura since our Chief Human Capital Officer was just elected mayor there. I imagine it will be a charter school so they will be able pay the computer code teachers a higher salary than a traditional public school teacher. Otherwise, you will never be able to recruit people who can teach computer coding classes for $40,000 a year.
  2. Speaking of finding teachers and new schools, it looks like there will be a new school for future teachers of Dade because FIU has partnered with the district to create a “pipeline of homegrown educators.” They are going to need a pipeline to fill the void of college graduates willing to work for $40,000 with no job security and no guarantee of ever being paid more. I’m not sure where they will find current teachers willing to encourage young people to go into the teaching profession as it currently stands in Florida. It almost sounds like child abuse. Since the students will only have education backgrounds, it will be impossible for them to transition to other careers and they will be stuck with a life of servitude that might allow them to one day purchase a one bedroom apartment in Opa-Locka.
  3. Our Superintendent claimed they “managed the impossible” by negotiating a new contract with United Teachers of Dade. I actually agree with him on this statement. He did “manage the impossible” by getting 79% of Dade County teachers to voluntarily give themselves a 0.7-2% raise which doesn’t even keep up with the cost of inflation. There were endless kudos given back and forth between the Superintendent, the UTD President, and School Board members for this amazing act of benevolence. The UTD President stated “we can never put a number on the worth of our teachers. “ Yes you can. UTD just put my worth as an eleven year veteran at $308. Thank goodness for the one teacher who said the contract wasn’t worth the paper it was written on and thanked the 21% of us who voted “No.” You go girl!
  4. Speaking of speaking at School Board meetings, be warned that if you do sign up to speak at a School Board meeting, district officials will be at your school the next day trying to intimidate you from voicing your concerns in a publicly broadcasted forum. I know at least two teachers this has happened to. One teacher in a wheel chair spoke up about being bullied by the school district and mentioned an instance where the district told her, “If you get a lawyer, we’ll get fifteen.” Thanks for speaking up about the district bullying their teachers! You go girl!
  5. In case you didn’t know, our Superintendent happens to have a buddy, buddy relationship with the White House. He flew there twice in one week. Out of all of the nation’s superintendents, he was chosen to introduce the President at a forum of superintendents regarding the digital convergence. They are so close that the President even refers to him on a first name basis. Miami was chosen as a model for equipping all of its schools with Wi-Fi, distributing 150,000 devices and installing 11,000 Promethean Boards that most teachers have no idea how to use. Truth be told, I am loving my Wi-Fi and I do enjoy teaching in a one to one classroom, but those tablets are a disgrace and I will happily donate my SmartBoard to a Broward County teacher.
  6. Regardless of how most teachers and students feel about the particular device the district chose to distribute to ninth graders, there is at least one student who is grateful to the Superintendent for bestowing upon him the bulky black box with its dangling keyboard. We know this because a ninth grader with ADD spoke about growing up in poverty and being unable to score higher than a 2 on the FCAT. It was a very touching story and definitely proved the harm being done to students by high stakes testing. But at the very end of his speech he threw in an awkward “Thank you Superintendent for the tablets. They really help.” Then it got even weirder when our Superintendent spoke about ensuring the student would graduate, that he knew where the student went to school, who his teacher was, where he lived, and with whom he lived. It almost sounded like a veiled threat (at least in Kafkateach’s dark and twisted mind). My conspiracy theory would be that the Superintendent paid the kid some money or promised the kid he would graduate if he thanked him for the tablet but if he ever told somebody about this agreement “he knew where he lived.” Thanks to Valerie Strauss’s blog you can judge for yourselves. Perhaps I am being too cynical http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/11/20/a-students-plea-for-help-and-a-superintendents-heartfelt-response/
  7. Another student who spoke out about overcrowded classrooms did not receive such a warm response from the Superintendent. His JROTC class had almost 70 students and one teacher and he complained it had become a dumping ground. The Superintendents response was a cold “class size limits only apply to core classes. Electives and AP classes fall outside of the class size amendment.” Translation, “Sorry kid, but you and your teacher are SOL.” Finally, after four hours of speeches about everything from computer code to mindfulness (by people who didn’t seem particularly mindful of other people’s time), my colleague spoke out about violation of the class size amendment. He told stories of core teachers with classroom sizes of over 40 students that clearly violated fire codes that led to chaotic classrooms which made it impossible to honor the district’s mission and vision. Dade County’s motto is “Giving Our Students the World” as far as violating the class size amendment it should be changed to “Giving Our Students the Third World.” Hey kids, sorry if your classroom feels like a Mumbai subway train but overcrowding doesn’t seem to impact those Indian kids’ PISA scores.
  8. Speaking of test scores, there was a refreshing abundance of people speaking against high stakes testing at the School Board meeting. From students, to parents, to teachers, to union leaders and even the Superintendent spoke out against over testing our children. It has now become en vogue to be against testing and our Superintendent has hopped aboard the anti-testing choo-choo train and he is going to ride it all the way to Washington so he can give President Obama an earful about the dangers of high stakes testing. For those of you with any memory at all, this may seem odd as it was our Superintendent that led the state down the Race to the Top rabbit hole of testing on steroids. Now that the Race to the Top grant has expired and the district is left with the responsibility of creating 1,000 EOCs in order to evaluate teachers without receiving any additional funds, I guess he thinks maybe that race wasn’t worth winning after all. Since he got us all into this situation, I don’t mind if our Superintendent takes the lead in getting us all out of this situation.

 

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to write another debriefing of a Dade County School Board meeting because my husband has threatened to divorce me if I ever make him listen to that nonsense again. If you do have the time (and you aren’t worried about the district showing up at your school), sign up to speak at a Board meeting about an issue bothering you. It clearly irritates them to no end when they can’t use the publicly aired meetings as a PR event for the Superintendent and the Board’s agenda. One day, when I can find a bottle of Xanax and a cheap babysitter, I might attend one myself.

Dear United Teachers of Dade,

Despite my many past blog posts about what a corrupt and ridiculous excuse for a union you have a reputation for being, I joined you anyway. After witnessing life as a teacher without a union, I came to the conclusion that some union is better than no union. In my three months as a UTD member, I have been bombarded with emails to attend happy hours, sign a petition, and received weekly inspirational quotes about the importance of union membership. I really enjoyed the opening words of the last week’s motivational email blast:

“We are all here because we want to serve our brothers and sisters, and each individual should be given a constant opportunity to do that in the ways that will best benefit the Union as a whole.— Peter Holter-Mehren, WAPWU President (2002)”

The email continued, “A union represents three fundamental ideas to me. First, it is a family. I sometimes address you as my brother or sister in this email and, for those of you I have had the pleasure of meeting this year, I may have called you my brother or sister in person. This is not exaggeration or hyperbole. Only in a family, do people sacrifice in this way for each other. In a union, we put skin in the game to make a better future for each other. Second, it represents democracy in the workplace. The fundamental principal around which our nation was founded extended to our place of work: if a decision affects us, we should have a say that decision. And third, it represents the idea that we do not live to work, but that we work to live and living means having the time and means to be a good husband, wife, or partner, a good father, mother, or family member and, ultimately, to be fully ourselves and pursue our own dreams and interests.”

Unfortunately, these beautiful words were followed by a few more paragraphs extolling the contract negotiated by UTD and prompting me to vote in favor of the contract. I responded to the email with the question, “What kind of family pays one sibling a $300 allowance and another sibling a $6,000 allowance for doing the exact same work?”

The current step schedule does not encourage any sense of family amongst union members or teachers in general working for MDCPS. It is divisive and pits teacher against teacher at a time when teachers need to be unified the most. As a teacher working eleven years for MDCPS, I am on step 8 and stand to earn a raise of $308 next year (this year it will be $152 since it is not retroactive). Then there is something tagged on called an “annual stipend” that we will only receive if tax funds are collected. Even when you combine these two figures, the total equals 1.7%, nowhere near the 4% being heralded in the press or even the 2% promised by UTD. I signed a petition sponsored by my union that a 1% raise wasn’t good enough. In return, I am ending up with a 0.7% actual raise (permanent salary increase) and my union is promoting this as a great victory. I don’t feel victorious. I feel defeated. Defeated by both my district and my union who believe an 11 year veteran teacher is worth $2,000 more than a new teacher. That somehow $42,000 a year in one of the most expensive cities in the nation is somehow fair compensation for people who have devoted their lives to educating this counties children.

When I complained to the author of the email about the injustice of the step schedule, I was given the usual response older teachers in the district receiving decent raises and a livable salary tell the younger folk “I did my time.” Like war veterans or newly released detainees from a Russian gulag, they share their horror stories of the “desert years” of their profession when they had to work three jobs to make ends meet. I have also worked three jobs in the beginning of my career to make ends meet. But now I’m raising three small children and I need one job to be enough. Many mid-career teachers in Dade County are in the same situation. The excuse I was given by the union representative was that the current step schedule was inherited by them and they did not design it. Though they may not have created the current step schedule, they could certainly change it. Next year they will be forced by the state to change it when merit pay kicks in and the largest raise on the step schedule must be smaller than the raise given to “highly effective” teachers on merit pay. You can kiss that $6,000 step good-bye. New teachers on annual contract will probably fair better under the merit pay system, they can’t do much worse than the $300 raises the union is offering them for the first 20 years of their career. To keep salaries so low for so long can only serve two entities: the union or the district, or possibly both. It most certainly does not serve the interests of teachers and thus should not be promoted by the union.

Whenever I speak with the union about issues that they should be taking a stronger stance on or what they can do to improve the lives of teachers, it is somehow turned around to a union sales pitch. “We need more membership” or “It’s the freeloaders fault.” I cannot blame any teacher for opting out of an $821 union membership when all they get in return is $308 (or $152 for this year). Even teachers who want to join the union are forced to chose between $80 a month for gymnastics classes for their kids or UTD membership. That is the reality for teachers making $40,000 a year in Miami Dade County. If they truly wanted to grow union membership, they need to make it more affordable. How about a sliding scale or a standard 1% ? I think I prefer the percentage of salary idea, it might make them more motivated to negotiate higher salaries for all employees. UTD has the highest membership dues in Florida. Even Broward and Palm Beach County with comparable salaries, have lower union dues and they also have lower cost of living. The union and the district suffer from the same downtown bloated bureaucracies which often serve as the only escape for classroom teachers who want to earn higher salaries and receive a modicum of respect. Did I mention that some union presidents in Florida actually still work as classroom teachers? Might it lead to a union that cared more for their members if they experienced the same hardships faced by classroom teachers and had to live off the same salaries as classroom teachers? I realize Miami Dade is a huge school system and our president most likely needs to serve full time as our representative, however, there is certainly bloat to be cut in the system. For example, when I went to UTD’s website to search for information about the contract the first item that appeared was an advertisement for an education gala http://www.utd.org/involvement/utd-2nd-annual-education-gala-save-the-date. When I hear the words “gala” and “black tie recommended,” the Art Basel crowd or Bravo’s Miami Housewives come to mind, certainly not teachers. What is a UTD Educators gala? A prom for teachers? I don’t need my union to function as a party planner. I need my union to negotiate a decent raise and file lawsuits over the consistent violation of the class size amendment or bogus teacher VAM scores.

Despite these criticisms of you UTD, I am standing by you for now. Even if I scrape by to pay your dues and in return you give half of us a slap in the face raise, teachers need someway to organize and someone to stand up for them. With the re-election of Rick Scott and a Republican dominated Florida Legislature, the unions are teachers only defense against forces bent on destroying public schools and our profession. The courts and strong local contracts will be the only methods of circumventing whatever mean-spirited nonsense comes out of Tallahassee. UTD has done a good job of protecting annual contract teachers by ensuring job security for those with effective job evaluations and at least teachers will have some formal appeals process for the subjective portion of IPEGS. The current contract, however, is an injustice to all teachers below step 13 and when the older teachers retire, UTD will have alienated possible future members and left them too poor to afford union membership even if they wanted to. If teachers decide to vote down the contract on November 18th, please go back and negotiate a brighter future for all MDCPS employees.

How will you be voting? Please fill out this brief survey created by teachers for teachers. https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/M97SDCV

 

It was a rough week for Florida teachers (especially this South Florida teacher). We started the week with the nightmarish re-election of the grim reaper of the teaching profession and public education in general, AKA Rick Scott. In Dade County, we ended the week with a “victorious” 2% (very fuzzy math) raise. In between, Kafkateach found out there is a rumor about her circulating amongst Dade County administrators that she is some rogue “disgruntled” teacher. I got news for you Dade County, I am not the only disgruntled employee who continues to work for the betterment of your children despite routinely being given the shaft http://miamieducator.wordpress.com/.

So how is it that Kafkateach found out that some administrator she has never met who works in a school she has never stepped foot in, is referring to her as “disgruntled”? It started when a fellow teacher posted on Facebook about a Miami Herald reporter doing a story on the tablet computers issued to ninth graders who was looking to speak with teachers who were using them in their classrooms. Not one to shy away from speaking with reporters (unlike most of my coworkers), I was happy to contact the reporter to give her some insight into the lives of actual teachers and students working on the tablets. She told me she was having a very tough time finding teachers willing to talk and was happy to speak with someone with a very balanced opinion. I referred her to a colleague who I knew was also working with the tablets and after she spoke with the reporter her admin was none to happy and asked where she got the idea to speak with the reporter. She asked her if it was that “disgruntled” teacher from (insert name of my school). I am assuming this administrator was at the Town Hall meeting regarding the progress of the billion dollar technology bond where I asked the Superintendent why they weren’t training their teachers how to use all of this amazing technology the district has invested in http://kafkateach.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/a-town-hall-meeting/.

I started writing this blog after getting in hot water for speaking with a Herald reporter about the exemption of Advanced Placement classes from the class size amendment. Apparently, that incident has given me pariah status not only at my school, but in the entire school district. I always assumed that after I told the truth about what was going on in Dade County classrooms regarding class size, I had landed myself on some proverbial doo-doo list. The reporter confirmed to me that, indeed, the district has a whole file on me and they were so paranoid of what I would have to say they initially refused to grant her access to my classroom to see the tablets in action despite approval from my Principal. They supplied her with an alternative list of ninth grade social studies teachers who had somehow made it on the district’s “goodie-goodie” list of press- approved instructors. The irony is that I knew that one of the teachers listed never used the tablets in their classroom. So if the reporter had visited the teacher’s classroom that the district PR person had recommended, they could have done a story on how the district spent $500 a piece on tablets that were collecting Cheeto crumbs in students’ backpacks instead. Nice job district PR person! I wonder how much you get paid to steer reporters in the direction of teachers’ classrooms who would end up making the Superintendent’s technology initiative look like a billion dollar boondoggle? I may have my criticisms about the manner in which the tablets were rolled out and the actual tablets themselves, but overall I have been very positive about the use of technology in the classroom and I am using it on a daily basis. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article3649900.html

Let it be known Dade County teachers, if you speak at a Town Hall meeting, Board meeting, or with reporters, Big Brother is watching. But I guess most teachers already knew that and that is why they never open their mouths about anything in the first place. Regardless, I have a feeling that many Dade County teachers will be opening their mouths loudly to complain in teachers’ lounges across the district on Monday when they see the new contract assembled by UTD and the district’s negotiating team. Dade County looked deep into their pockets and managed to find enough funds for a so-called 2% “raise.” Only when you look at the chart, it appears that the actual “raise” portion for my step is only 0.72%. By tacking on an additional 1% annual stipend that may be removed depending on tax revenues, you arrive at the 2%. http://www.utd.org/file_download/1708/UTD+2014-2015+TA.pdf.  I believe this will be the new trend in teacher salaries as merit pay kicks in and steps are phased out. There won’t be anymore true raises, just annual stipends or one-time bonuses that are not a guaranteed salary increase, unlike an actual raise.

Here’s to you Dade County teachers! It looks like another $300 raise for Kafkateach and many of her coworkers. You won’t be able to afford to eat in any restaurants in South Beach but you might be forced to work in one if you want to continue a teaching career in Dade County and keep a leak free roof over your head.

Anyone else feeling disgruntled lately? If so, please feel free to leave a comment about the cause of your disgruntlement below.

To be a badass or not to be a badass? That is the question. The other question being, “Is the term “badass” even a curse word?” According to Yahoo answers, the answer is “no.” Urban dictionary defines “Badass” as “an ultra cool motherf****r.” I guess that’s a good thing. But dictionary.com had two definitions, one of which was pretty terrible, “a person who is difficult to deal with; mean-tempered; touchy” or distinctively tough or powerful; so exceptional as to be intimidating.” I’m definitely liking the second definition better than the first one.

Considering there seems to be no consensus on what the word even means and whether or not it’s a curse word, I have to admit I was originally wary of joining a Facebook group with the word ‘”Badass” in the name.

I try not to curse online. Even though I am not a complaint goodie-goodie teacher type, I know that Facebook is a very public forum and I try to avoid any evidence of youth corrupting behavior even if I may occasionally partake in such activities in the privacy of my home. But I have to admit, the Badass Teachers Association has caught on around the nation and has been a powerful mobilizing force for teachers to come together and fight for their profession and their schools. The Florida BAT group is a great social media outlet for Sunshine State teachers to come together to expose and bemoan the educational atrocities of our state. Even Andy Ford, the president of the Florida Educators Association, is a member and participates in discussions.

After a frustrating week of UTD email experiences, I got to thinking, “Why not start a Dade County Badass Teachers association?” If the best UTD leadership can offer is an online petition to express our dismay over a 1% salary increase, surely a united Facebook group of a few hundred teachers could do better. If UTD leadership does not even have the courtesy to reply to paid members’ disgust over the district’s noncompliance of Florida’s class size amendment, then where are concerned Miami educators to turn to for support and activism?

Thus, a group of Miami Dade Florida BATs branched off and formed their own Internet BAT cave “The Miami-Dade County BAT Teacher Association.” The Miami-Dade County BAT Teacher Association was created to help organize teachers within Miami-Dade County in our efforts to fight for decent wages, health insurance, class size compliance and fair evaluations. We hope to work together for the sake of saving our profession and public schools against the threats of corporate education reform and high-stakes testing. The National BATs and Florida BATs have successfully impacted both national and state level education debates. They have made their unions take notice of member and nonmember discontent with labor leadership. We hope to do the same for Miami Dade County teachers. Please join our efforts and become a BAT by joining our Facebook group. It’s free and we respond to emails!

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Sometimes I’m embarrassed to live in Florida. Usually my embarrassment coincides with a major election. After last night’s first gubernatorial debate between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist (in English, they debated last week in dubbed over Spanish), Florida once again found itself the laughing stock of the nation. I’m not a big fan (no pun intended) of debates or politicians, but I tuned in at 7 pm to find out what the candidates had to say about education. Like millions of other viewers, I tuned into an empty stage. Then Charlie Crist emerged and had the stage all to him self for a few minutes. The newscasters muttered something about a dispute over “no fans” and at first I took it to mean no fans in the audience (fans as in political groupies that would clap loudly for you and boo the other guy). But no, they were literally talking about the type of fan that keeps you cool. Not being a politician or male, I asked my husband why one would want a fan in their podium. His answer grossed me out so I won’t post it here. Anyway, apparently Charlie Crist is quite the fan of fans because his fan goes with him wherever he goes and his fan even has its own twitter account!

Always the hater and always one to avoid impromptu speaking at all costs, Rick Scott spent the first seven minutes of the debate back stage throwing a hissy fit over Charlie Crist’s fan. Charlie may have come across as having a glandular issues (it is Florida after all) but Rick Scott came across as a temperamental coward with public speaking issues.

For those teachers who feel they don’t have much choice in voting for either a current Republican governor or a former Republican governor, allow me to highlight one key difference between the two candidates. When asked about tying teacher pay to test scores, Scott replied, “We all know measurement works.” Crist answered, “We have way too much testing in our schools.” The choice is yours teachers.

If you would like a humorous and semi-complete rundown of the debate, click here http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2014/10/rick_scott-charlie_crist_debate_live_blog.php.

I haven’t used my blog for ranting purposes lately, but after spending five hours locked in the auditorium with 500 freshmen while the rest of the school took the PSAT, I’m experiencing high levels of agitation. Surprisingly, the students were not the main cause of my agitation. It was the words of a fellow teacher that set off the Kafkateach rant-o-meter. Our school’s game plan for the PSAT was to corral the freshmen in the auditorium and have them take advantage of our school’s new Wi-Fi capabilities and their tablet computers to complete assignments for their teachers online. Not much of a game and not much of a plan, but it kept them busy in their seats for a little while at least. Of course some students came to school without a device, or it wasn’t charged, or it wouldn’t connect to the Internet, so an older teacher ran back to her room to get pencils and paper for everyone. Literally, she had enough paper and pencils for all 500 students! She boasted that she spent thousands of her own money every year on pencils and papers. When I asked why she would do such a thing, her answer was, “Because I’m a dedicated teacher.” Then she added, “some of my students are homeless you know?”

Umm…yes I did know that some of her students were homeless because we work at the same school and teach the same students. I also knew that some of our students drive brand new Mercedes Benzes to school and certainly don’t need their teacher to supply them with paper and pencils. I once had a student who never wore the school uniform because he had to show off his new Abercrombie shirts. He had a new $500 pair of sneakers everyday and when he turned 16 he crashed the new BMW his parents bought for him after two weeks. This same student asked me for a pen and paper everyday in my class and was indignant when I failed to provide him with his school supplies. Now I know why he never brought any pen and paper. Why should he when teachers were so willing to give him pen and paper no questions asked? Teachers, you are not doing your students, your fellow teachers, or yourselves any favors by spending thousands of your own money on pencils and paper every year. It doesn’t make you “dedicated” to supply a kid who vacations in the south of France with basic school supplies he could easily afford. It makes you a sucker. So please don’t get on your “dedicated” teacher high horse when you’re on step 30 and making $70,000 a year to a teacher making $40,000 after ten years and who is burdened with paying for two kids in daycare. If you would use the available technology in the first place your students wouldn’t even need pencil and paper.

The dedicated teacher martyrdom competition really irks me. When I attended my very brief tablet training, they had some teachers from the Superintendent’s IPrep Academies come tell us about their experience. One teacher boasted that her staff would come to school on Saturdays to make the program work because they were “dedicated.” I consider myself a “dedicated” teacher, but I have small children I need to take care of and there is no way I would regularly go to work on Saturdays-even if they paid me! Other “dedicated” martyr teacher types like to brag that they stay at school until 6 pm every night. The amount of time teachers spend at the school building is not necessarily a sign of dedication or being a great teacher. These days it is more often a sign of being an inefficient luddite. Are you wasting your planning time in the teachers’ lounge making copies for your students? Post it online and save yourself time, save your school money, and save the world some trees. The school computers are so slow that I can actually get more done from my house than my classroom these days.

Stating that your willingness to work for free and using your own money for supplies somehow makes you “dedicated,” implies that your fellow teachers without the luxury of extra time or money are somehow not “dedicated.”  Teachers, when you willingly work for free and spend wads of your own money on basic school supplies, you are not winning any “Most Dedicated Teacher” awards. You just end up perpetuating the treatment of teachers as doormats.

There is something different in the air this fall. Florida may not enjoy the same crisp weather or autumnal leaves that characterize the season, but we had come to expect the Bill Gates sponsored corporate education propaganda bonanza known as “Education Nation.” For some unknown reason, Bill Gates has decided not to spend his billions shoving his test based education reform agenda down the throats of viewers who happened to tune in because they were interested in the state of our public schools. We can rejoice in the fact that instead of spending our afternoon throwing tomatoes at Brian Williams on our television sets because he chose to open the event by asking teachers what they thought about the ever pressing issue of school uniforms, we can join Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody and Leonie Haimson as they take on Common Core, charters and school closures, and other threats to public education, October 11, 2014, 12-5 PM (EST), for the first ever Public Education Nation webcast, on http://www.schoolhouselive.org/.

Because I am prone to conspiracy theories (and there’s nothing I love more than a Bill Gates conspiracy theory), I’ll turn the rest of this blog post into an open forum for your theories as to why Bill Gates decided not to hold his annual Education Nation summit this year. Here are a few of mine: feel free to add your own to the commenting section below.

  1. Bill Gates feels he has accomplished his Common Core agenda. The tests will be administered this spring and schools across America are scrambling to purchase new computers and software programs. Ca-ching $!$!
  1. Bill Gates is terrified of the protesters that might show up outside the secure confines of the studio filming the event. Pesky anti-Common Core posters made by classroom teachers and public school parents might actually make their way onto the airwaves. Better not to give those rabble-rousers a venue to express their dissent.Bill Gates knows his gig as a benevolent education “philanthropist” is up and no self-respecting teacher would attend the event.

3.  Bill Gates could not find a token Teacher of the Year (TOY) willing to appear on his panel to promote his agenda. The Florida math TOY who professed her love for VAM last spring http://kafkateach.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/a-florida-math-teacher-professes-her-love-for-vam-seriously/ must have been busy.

Feel free to add your own to theory as to why Bill Gates decided against holding his Education Nation summit in the commenting section below.

This blog post is to dedicated to all of the female teachers out there who put themselves in classrooms filled with adolescent boys armed with camera phones on a daily basis. Warning: the digital world has become a virtual playground for some of our more perverted little darlings. Because my life seems to be filled with irony, it would be the year that Kafkateach tries to be positive about the use of technology in the classroom and the power of using social media with our students that I would become a victim of the “low snap.” Granted, for most of the period of time that students have been coming to schools with camera phones I have been pregnant and immune from the threat of someone actually wanting to “snap” a photo under my maternity dress. But now that I’ve been released from the safety of my reproductive cacoon, the “low snap” is an ever present danger.

For those of you who still may not have figured out what I’m referring to, the “low snap” is adolescent boy slang for snapping a cellphone picture up women’s skirts. I’ve seen stories on the news of some perv doing this to women in line at Starbucks, but the dynamics of the classroom make female teachers a more likely target of the “low snap.” So likely, in fact, that I first heard about the phenomenon of boys taking cellphone pictures up their teachers’ skirts from a fellow female teacher friend who was a victim of this horrible behavior a few years back.

Let me explain how it works. You, good hearted teacher who is actually doing your job and walking around helping students, might be distracted while you are providing assistance to one student while his little friend is behind you maneuvering his spy cam below your skirt. I caught the little darling only because his friends couldn’t stop giggling. Being a teacher does make you grow eyeballs on the back of your head and for some reason I just knew there was a kid behind me with a cellphone. I turned around and grabbed it only to check the camera roll to see a picture of my panties on it! Luckily, with three little kids Kafkateach has not had the time, the money, nor the inclination to go lingerie shopping and my undergarment selection consists mainly of oversized pregnancy panties. Thank goodness because the photo was a lot less revealing than it could have been. Nonetheless, Kafkateach was still mortified when in order to prosecute the little perv, pretty much every male security guard, police officer and male administrator at my school had to look at a photo of my panties. Male teachers can rejoice in the fact that they will never have such a professionally humiliating experience.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the police officers and administrators at my school who handled the situation very sensitively and professionally. My poor friend who had a similar experience with a student was not so fortunate. Her principal and her school cop basically blamed her and did not punish the boy involved. My little darling got a ten day out of school suspension and our police officer offered to arrest him for lewd and lascivious behavior (a great vocabulary lesson for the kid if nothing else).

Of course in the Digital Age, a cellphone picture of a teacher’s panties will spread on social media faster than a California brushfire. After spending most of my planning period in the assistant principal’s office, I ran back to my room for a quick lunch of chicken nuggets only to lose my appetite when a wonderful former female student came to me upset because she overheard some boys talking about a different picture of my panties on Instagram! Turns out the kid I caught earlier probably had the idea put in his head to do such a thing because of a photo circulating on social media that was taken the day before. In less than 24 hours I had become a victim of the “low snap” at least two times! This time was worse because the kid had a whole night to post it on social media and group text it to all of his friends! So it was no lunch for me and back to the assistant principal’s office I went. Unfortunately, by the time we tracked down the student involved, he had gotten word and deleted the image from his phone. We got the image from his friend’s phone but because we didn’t have it on his phone I couldn’t prosecute him criminally. He did incriminate himself in a text where he was bragging about “low snapping” but since there was no direct evidence of him taking the photo, a ten day out of school suspension was the best we could do.

So how do female teachers protect themselves from the “low snap”? The obvious solution is to wear pants. Only it’s really friggin’ hot in Miami! Besides the fact that pants would mean I would also have to find time to coordinate a blouse and a belt at 5 am when I’m trying to get dressed in the dark so as not to wake up a sleeping spouse. My teacher wardrobe mainly consists of ten dollar dresses from Ross. Throw it over your head and you’re good to go! As a bonus, the stretchy polyester material never wrinkles and they can double as maternity dresses. Most women hate pant shopping. Dress shopping is a much more pleasant experience. Pants have a tendency to hug the female curves in an almost more provocative manner than dresses so while they may prevent the “low snap” the kids might still be tempted to take a “high snap” of your back side (a little less invasive, but degrading nonetheless). We will only be fully protected from sexually objectifying cellphone photos if we choose to wear burqas. What’s that you say? “Why don’t you just ban cellphones from your classroom?” Because we’re BYOD baby! When the district issued tablets fail to pick up the school Wi-Fi, I have the students break out their cellphones because their cellphones never fail. When students chose to leave their tablets at home because they claim they’re too heavy (side note, my six year old daughter refers to the tablet as “the heavy Ipad”) or they bring them uncharged to class, I allow them to use a cellphone instead. The BYOD environment makes the “low snap” almost impossible to avoid. Even the tablets have cameras on them! What’s a poor female teacher to do? We can always do what we do best-teach. The following day I planned a nice lesson about patriarchy, misogyny and footbinding in classical China. Technology may have changed, but the male impetus to control and fetishize the female form has not.

Many in the anti-education reform camp like to poo-poo any attempt to bring 21st century technology to the classroom. This year Kafkateach has had a first hand glimpse of what technology can and cannot do to improve the learning experience for both teachers and students. Here is a quick run down of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the digital classroom:

The Good

  1. There are actually many positive aspects of bringing Wi-Fi and mobile devices to the classroom, of which my favorite is the ability to go paperless! I have always hated wasting my planning period standing in line at the copy machine only to have it break or run out of toner just as my turn is approaching. I have always hated the fact that after I have wasted my time and the school’s money making copies, half of the copies end up on my classroom floor when the kids leave the room. You may value the copies you made, but the students clearly do not. Yo teach! That ten page syllabus you made a copy of the first day of school usually ends up on the floor of some other teacher’s classroom. Do us all a favor and post it on your teacher webpage instead. Paper costs money, toner costs money, copy machines cost money, paperclips, staples, pens, pencils and everything else that goes with using paper instead of technology costs money. We may complain about the cost of those tech devices, but if we actually use those devices to cut back on our paper usage, we can save our schools a lot of money and we can save the lives of many trees as well (Kafkateach is a bit of a tree hugger).
  1. We can also save our schools money on scantrons and ourselves time at the teachers’ lounge running them through the machine. I will not miss the cacophony of wrong answers going off in the scantron machine. I will not miss hording scantrons because my school can only afford a certain amount. I will not miss students hounding me afterschool for what grade they got on a test. The new learning management systems automatically grade schoolwork assignments for you and give students an automatic score (except for essays and long response of course). Students cannot submit late work because the system will shut them out after the end time passes. I do not have to decipher student handwriting anymore! I love it!
  2. There are technological tools that help us reach our students in new ways. My ESOL students have been using Google translator to translate historical documents. Academic social media platforms like My Big Campus or Edmodo allow us to finally communicate with our students the way they communicate with each other. Social media in the classroom can be fun and a great way to personalize learning. (Warning: sometimes this can become too personal as I’ve noticed some of the boys trying to pick up girls during our online class discussions. Technology  may change, but the priorities of adolescent boys certainly have not). Our shy introverts in the back of the room are now on an equal playing field when it comes to participating in class discussions. Sometimes the kid that would never dream of raising their hand in class has the most profound things to say, while your extroverts and class clowns who like to listen to themselves talk are full of vapid statements.

The Bad

Of course, with the good comes the bad and in the case of technology in the classroom, the bad is atrocious. While I may be a fan of using technology in the classroom, I am not fan of the government corruption (see LA I-pad scandal) or district ineptitude (see my blog) that usually accompanies it. School districts across America are some how finding the money to throw shiny metal devices into classrooms but not finding the money to train teachers how to actually use them as instructional tools. My district invested millions in equipping every classroom with fancy Promethean boards that no one has been trained how to use. For now they function as a big fancy projector with a great sound system. The poor 7th and 9th grade Social Studies teachers were thrown a class set of tablet computers the first week of school and told to use them with no training. The tablets the district chose have major issues connecting to the new Wi-Fi the district spent millions on. The tablets also have major issues charging. Out of the original 30 tablets I was issued for my classroom in August, seven of them had to be taken out of use because of problems that a computer technician couldn’t even fix. That’s a rather high rate of malfunction. A $500 tablet that does not hold a charge or connect to the Internet is $500 of district money flushed down the toilet. And then they say they don’t even have the money to give us a $500 step increase! No wonder teachers feel resentment towards the tablets. I’m surprised teachers haven’t taken sledge hammers to the tablets or thrown them out the window (though they would have to be higher than twenty feet because of the fancy case designed especially for our district so the tablets won’t break).

Bottom line is that there is a finite amount of funds for public education (which actually happens to be quite large) and businesses are seeing technology in the classroom as a great way to increase their bottom lines:

“The Obama administration’s signature “Race to the Top” program, which provides states with large cash grants in exchange for changing how students and teachers are evaluated, is being viewed as a potential cash cow for education start-ups. In a blog post, Alex Hernandez, a partner with the Charter School Growth Fund, writes that school districts are “raising more money than you can shake a stick at” and the money granted to local school systems from Race to the Top may be used on the latest tech innovations. The most recent round of Race to the Top Funding, he adds, means districts “should be unwrapping new toys for a while.” 
http://m.thenation.com/article/181762-venture-capitalists-are-poised-disrupt-everything-about-education-market.

The Obama administration has been key to enabling the corporate takeover of public school funds. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/obama-connected_n_3392817.html

There is even a new pledge on the Department of Education’s website asking Superintendents to promise to bring Wi-Fi and wireless devices to their schools

http://tech.ed.gov/pledge/.

Of course, the Department of Education is not offering to provide funding for the school districts that sign on to this pledge. I know this because I got an email from the Alliance for Excellent Education (a Jeb Bush baby) in my district inbox asking me to ask my superintendent to sign this pledge (me thinks he already has). When I replied to the email to ask if districts would be receiving any money to implement this rather costly initiative (it will cost large districts billions), I received a curt replay of “No.” Why would any teacher ask their superintendent to sign this pledge if it means spending billions on technology while they see ever increasing class sizes and no increase in pay already?

Instead of funding costly, cumbersome, and invalid teacher evaluation systems, perhaps it would have made sense for the Obama Administration to fund the Future Ready pledge instead? Perhaps they could encourage private businesses like Google, Apple and Microsoft to donate devices and software to school districts in exchange for major tax write offs? Sillicon Valley tech billionaires seem so concerned with public school education that they are willing to fund baseless lawsuits against teacher tenure (see Vergara trial) but they concerned enough about public school students to actually  donate software or devices.

The Ugly

There is nothing uglier than the district designed protective case for tablets in my county. It’s a big, black, clunky eyesore. It easily adds two pounds to the weight of the tablet. I know this because I dropped one on my foot the other day. The tablet was fine. My foot almost required medical attention. Students are not dumb, but apparently whoever decided on that case for my district has never instructed a teenager. Teenagers sense the extra weight, the ugliness, the socio-economic stigma attached to the district tablet. Kids with money opted to bring in their own shiny, colorful, sleek and compact devices. Kids without money were stuck with the heavy, black box with bulky accessories that scream “only a public school district would purchase this piece of crap.” My conspiracy theory is that the district purposely made the tablets as unattractive as possible so students would opt to bring their own device instead. But some students don’t have that option and are struggling to come up with the $5 to rent the device. They figured out in about two seconds how to take the tablet out of the protective case so it’s lighter and looks more like an Ipad. So in the end the district spent money on protective cases that the students took off as soon as they were issued the device. Any classroom teacher would have told them this would happen. But who cares? Somebody got paid. My fear is that the public school market will become the dumping ground for the worst products that are sitting in Chinese warehouses because no consumer would ever buy them. What if the private sector donated the devices instead of making a profit off a bad product that they would otherwise have to pay money for someone to dispose?

  1. Almost as ugly as our district device, is the online textbook someone (obviously not a teacher) selected for our world history classes. The online textbook has no page numbers, which makes assigning homework a pain in the wazoo. The online textbook has so much interactive media being shoved on one screen that it’s too much of a hot mess to make any sense out of. I tried to use the online textbook to make an assessment and the system was so slow and counterintuitive it took hours to make one test. I’ve basically been creating my own curriculum this year because the text is so poorly designed. Corporate curriculum tends to be lacking because it is designed by people who are not actually using it the classroom.

Ultimately, corporate curriculum and technology in the classroom will always be plagued by the underlying impetus of profit. When dollar signs win, students and teachers tend to lose.

Recently Arne Duncan granted a one year reprieve to NCLB waiver states from using test scores in teacher evaluations. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2014/09/which_nclb_waiver_states_may_d.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS3. This only makes sense since this is the first year for the new Common Core aligned assessments to be administered. But for Florida teachers, it’s full steam ahead with VAM! Like “The Little Engine that Could,” the Florida VAM is no quitter. The FLDOE is determined to VAM Florida teachers by any means necessary.

Not one to shy away from sending emails to high level officials, I sent the Florida Commissioner of Education the following email last week:

“I was very disappointed to see that Florida will still be using student test scores in teacher evaluations this year even though Arne Duncan granted a one year reprieve from test based evaluations to the NCLB waiver states.

I am utterly perplexed as to how the state plans on calculating VAM scores for teachers in the 2014-15 school year. Almost all of the tests our students will be taking this year are new exams that are still in the process of being created. Students have not been given a baseline assessment. How can the VAM model possibly predict growth for a test that a student has never taken before?

Perhaps you can direct me to the appropriate statistician at the Florida Department of Education who can better explain to me how an algorithm is capable of predicting student learning gains on a test that doesn’t even exist yet?”

One week later, I received an email from someone (or something) called “ARM”:

“The VAM model calculates an expected score for an individual student based what similar students scored on the test during the same year. It does this using a series of covariates that have been shown to be related to student learning growth. Prior test score is the most significant of these predictors. The expected score is based on the actual performance of students on the assessment during the year, and these expectations are set individually using information from the covariates contained in the model. It is not dependent on alignment of scales between the prior assessment used as a covariate (FCAT) and the current test score expectation being calculated (FSA). The fact that the FSA is new does not impact the way the model functions or its ability to perform the expected score calculation. To take a simple example, height and age can be used to predict weight using a simple linear regression. An expected score for weight is computed and compared to actual weight to determine the fixed effects beta coefficients based on how it is measured. If the observed weight data is measured in pounds, the predicted values calculated using these fixed effects will also be in pounds. If they are measured in kilograms, the predicted values will be in kilograms.  In the case of VAM, student scores on the FSA will be predicted based, in part, on prior performance on the related FCAT 2.0 assessment and how students who performed similarly in the prior year on the FCAT 2.0 scored in 14-15 on the FSA.”

 So…translated into my social studies teacher vernacular with only two statistics courses under my belt, I take the statement “Prior test score is the most significant of these predictors” to mean that a student who scores low on one standardized test is predicted to reliably score low on another standardized test. If this is the case, then are standardized test scores measuring what students know or how well they will do on any standardized test?

The fact that the FSA is new does not impact the way the model functions or its ability to perform the expected score calculation.”

This is perhaps the scariest statement of them all. Of course any algorithm can function if you plug in a numerical value for a given variable. And that is exactly what the FLDOE will be doing this year when it calculates teacher VAMs. They are just going to plug in any damned test score. This further proves my first point. They are so confident that past test performance is the best indicator of future test performance that they can plug in any standardized test score to create a VAM ranking for a completely different test.

“In the case of VAM, student scores on the FSA will be predicted based, in part, on prior performance on the related FCAT 2.0 assessment and how students who performed similarly in the prior year on the FCAT 2.0 scored in 14-15 on the FSA.” There you have it Florida teachers. The state indeed plans on using FCAT 2.0 test scores to predict student growth on the supposedly much more rigorous FSA exam.

Not one to ever feel accountable for its role in enforcing teacher accountability models, the FLDOE has passed the burden of creating end of course exams for every course in Florida on to individual school districts. Districts can’t even give teachers a straight answer as to which test data will be used for 50% of their evaluations this year. I contacted the head of statistics and research for my county to ask if they would be using a VAM model or proficiency rates for the district created EOCs. Here was her response:

“We will be using many models. Some will only have proficiency ( like AP courses) and some will have growth. The details have not all been worked out.”

Umm….let’s tackle the first absurdity. Judging AP teachers on proficiency rates is a terrible idea. Some teachers in my district have the ability to pick and choose who gets to take their course. Other AP teachers have schools that treat their classes like dumping grounds for students who can’t fit in the core classes that are covered by the class size amendment. My school has the AVID program which places nontraditional AP students in the AP program. The AVID students rarely pass the AP exams. That doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from taking the course. But it does mean that any AP teacher at a school with the AVID program will have significantly lower proficiency rates than a school that does not.

So…the district does plan on calculating VAM scores for the other district created EOCs. Only no baseline assessments have been administered as of the end of September. What data are they going to use to predict growth? See the FLDOE email. They will just stick whatever test score in the algorithm because the model will function even if they use a math test score to predict learning gains on a world history EOC.

Finally, I questioned which test data will be used for a teacher who teaches two sections of regular world history, two sections of AP world history and two sections of US history EOC courses. They will potentially have four different sets of data to choose from (one VAM for FSA reading, one VAM for the World History EOC, one VAM for the US History EOC and a separate ranking for their AP pass rate). I would be willing to bet money that the same teacher would have vastly different test score rankings in each subject. An AP teacher with gifted students might have a decent pass rate on AP exams while simultaneously having a low VAM for the FSA reading exam. So which test scores does the county use in the teacher’s evaluation? Needless to say, I did not get an answer to that question. I’m sure they wish they could respond to my emails the same way one of my little darlings reacted when I reprimanded him for talking off topic while doing group work, “Why don’t you just mind your own business!”

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