I keep telling myself I’m going to stop blogging, but then the theater of the absurd rears its ugly head and I can’t control myself. I was already feeling anxious about returning to the classroom after over a year of maternity leave. I would also be facing the challenge of designing my course around two entirely new textbooks. Then I was informed that the district would be equipping all incoming ninth graders with tablet computers. The thought of trying to teach a class of 30 fourteen year olds on tablets who were already obsessed with the zombie boxes filled me with a fear I haven’t experienced since my first year of teaching. In just ten years I’ve gone from chalk and overhead projector based instruction, to white boards, to Smartboards, and now individual learning devices. Don’t get me wrong, I realize I’m incredibly lucky to be in a district that invests in technology and prides itself on being “innovative.” I just wish they would invest as much in their instructors as they do in their devices.
Knowing that your best defense as a teacher is a good offense, I decided to suck it up and register for some unpaid professional development over the summer. Courses with titles like “Reimagining Teaching and Learning with Windows 8.1”, “Microsoft OneNote” and the not so subtle and Orwellianian “ThinkGATE.” I guess these titles were not titillating enough to entice any of the other 20,000 teachers in my district to drive out to the edge of the Everglades for an unpaid day of tablet training. All four of the workshops I registered for were cancelled at the last minute due to low enrollment. They only needed five people to enroll in the course and in a district with over 20,000 teachers they couldn’t even get that many.

Was I the only teacher in my county desperate enough for master plan points and a day away from my screaming children to register for unpaid professional development over the summer? Was I the only teacher paranoid that some future Ed Snowden in the back of my classroom would be hacking away at the district firewalls and all of a sudden porno noises would cause the classroom to erupt in hysterics and me to lose my job and possibly be featured on the O’Reilly Factor as the teacher that allowed her students to watch porn in the classroom on expensive tax payer funded devices? I just wanted to be able to stand in front of my class with a little confidence that I actually knew how to use this tablet thingy and I could catch them if they were up to no good. Students can sense fear like wild animals and they are ready to pounce if they feel you are weak. Gifted students especially will plot their days around trying to make their teachers look as stupid as possible. So I registered knowing that I would be uncompensated for my time, spend over fifty dollars on gas, and possibly be out hundreds on childcare if my mother in law fell through. The sad thing is that if the district were to even offer their measly $100 stipend that doesn’t even cover the cost of a decent babysitter, the courses would have been filled.

Once upon a time, in the glory days when I first started teaching in my district, there was this magnificent professional development opportunity called “Summer Heat.” Each year, right after the end of the school year, two weeks of professional development seminars were offered and you were actually paid your daily rate! You would have to wait up until midnight of the official day of registration just to get a spot they were so popular. Teachers will eagerly sign up for professional development if they are paid like professionals. The fact that the district invested enough money to equip every third and ninth grader with a tablet computer, but failed to properly invest in training the teachers who are being asked to implement this technology in their classrooms, is a major misstep. I want the tablets to be a success. I want the tablets to transform learning and improve student achievement. But I know that if you merely pass out a fancy gadget to students and teachers without any advance training, it will end up as just another million dollar boondoggle used to ridicule the waste in our public schools.

***I just read an article about Mooresville, NC which equips every 4th through 12th grader with a MacBook Air (sweet!). I really like what their Chief Technology Officer had to say, ““The point is not the box,” Scott Smith, the Mooresville district’s chief technology officer, said Tuesday, referring to the laptops and iPads. “The point is changing the teachers and the learning environment and doing what’s best for kids.”

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/07/22/5060274/ushering-in-the-digital-classroom.html#storylink=cpy

 

If any teachers were brave enough to watch the morning talk shows the day after the Vergara verdict, where a California judge declared teacher tenure unconstitutional, they quickly became aware that the general public and media pundits on both sides of the political aisle hate you and your stinking tenure. The only thing they hate more than a tenured teacher, is the teachers’ union which protects crappy teachers and will go to great lengths to keep the pot smokin’, child molestin’, Cheeto eatin,’ worksheet distributin’ (err…Ipads, or the Microsoft classroom “device”) teacher in the classroom. You should see the look on every panelist’s face on “Morning Joe” when they utter the words “teachers’ union.” It’s like they just walked into my classroom at the end of a 90 degree day when a bunch of sweaty fourteen year old boys who haven’t discovered deodorant stampede through the door after gym class. I’m not a big fan of  “The View” but it was on in the background as I was spoon feeding my baby some Spaghettios and I had to listen to Whoopi Goldberg unleash some whoop ass on the teachers’ union and tenure. Then she asked the audience to applause if they thought teachers should not have tenure. There was a good deal of clapping. She forgot to conduct the other side of the oh-so scientific method of the talk show applause-o-meter and allow the audience to clap if they thought teachers should have tenure. Despite another school shooting in which students were killed and a teacher was injured on the same day of the Vergara verdict, talk show commentators still seemed convinced that the number one problem standing in the way of a child’s education is teacher tenure.

For the general public who have only experienced one side of the classroom, I can understand why they hate teacher tenure and don’t see the need for it. They only see tenure as protecting “bad” teachers. They don’t understand that tenure also protects good teachers. What the general public doesn’t understand is that sometimes being a good teacher makes you a bad employee. For those of you who may have clicked on this blog because of Google and you actually do believe that tenured teachers are the greatest threat to public education, if you haven’t stopped reading, allow me to elucidate the value of teacher tenure.

  1. First of fall, public school teachers have due process rights which is a far cry from the tenure of university professors. A bad teacher may be fired if it can be documented by the administration and they go through the legal procedure. My first principal prided herself on being able to get rid of any teacher and she did.
  2. If you read the About section of my blog, you’ll see I started this blog after experiencing a class size of 57 students and going to the media after witnessing my students struggle to find a seat on the floor. Would I have spoken up if I didn’t have tenure and I had to fear not having my contract renewed the following fall? Did it make me a bad teacher to care about my students’ learning conditions? No. But exposing the squalor in a respected public school certainly made me a bad employee.
  3. Would I be sitting here writing this blog about the realities of public education and school reform without tenure? Hell no. Will any teacher feel comfortable speaking out against excessive testing, district fraud, squandering of funds, lack of student resources, or misguided reforms without tenure? No.
  4. Tenure protects good but expensive teachers. If you are a principal with a tight budget and you have to choose between retaining one excellent experienced teacher or hiring two newbies for the same price, you may be forced to pick two for the price of one. If you are a principal and you desperately need a football coach but you don’t have any social studies openings, do you renew your erudite teacher’s contract who caters to a small number of gifted students needs, or do you replace such a teacher with one who can finally give your school a winning season? There’s so much more involved in school hiring and firing decisions. It is not merely based on whether or not a teacher is performing. Without tenure, excellent teachers can be kicked out of the classroom based on administrative whims.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the Vergara verdict is that the judge actually believed Professor Chetty’s claim that one bad teacher can cost a child hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. As if that one “bad” teacher can do more damage to a poor student’s upward mobility than a childhood of abuse, being homeless, hungry, witnessing violence, lack of extracurricular opportunities or absentee parenting because their mother or father has to work three jobs to make ends meet. If they do manage to go to college, they face a future burdened with student debt and little job opportunity. Dear judge, the security of the teaching profession has lifted many poor minority children out of poverty and into the middle class. It has been a solid career option for many poor citizens who have attended college but may have lacked the connections for more high paying and prestigious careers. Without tenure, the profession becomes just another low wage at will temp job in our Walmart nation.

In the shadows of the Vergara verdict, and what has become almost a daily dose of school shootings, there’s a bizarre little news story circulating about a 34 year old woman who posed as a fifteen year old so she could go back to high school http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/texas-woman-34-posed-15-year-old-high-school-student-released-jail-article-1.1825190. Why would anyone want to go back to high school? Her answer? So she could feel loved. Despite all of the reform emphasis on test scores, failing students, failing teachers, failing schools… the one thing our public schools and our public school teachers have always succeeded best at doing is making our students feel loved.

I have spent the past year wearing nothing but yoga pants. In the winter months my yoga pants were accompanied by a long underwear shirt, Ugg boots and a poofy jacket. In the summer months my yoga pants (Capri length) have been paired with a wife beater tank top and flip flops. This has been my uniform for sitting around the house, going to the grocery store, picking the kids up at school, and about twice a week actually doing some yoga. I am not alone in my fashion reliance on stretchy black pants. In a city that pulsates with the energy of bored housewives on Zoloft, gym-wear is king.

On the runways of the YMCA, housewife chic is epitomized by three staple looks, all of which include the wardrobe staple of elastic waistbands. Look number one is the Crossfit Mom who dawns a pair of incredibly short and baggy running shorts at all times, even in the middle of winter. Is it really necessary to expose the entirety of one’s legs to sub-arctic temperatures in order to run? Whatever happened to grey sweatpants? They were good enough for Rocky. Look number two is Zumba mom. Her eighties inspired gym wear consists of fluorescent cargo pants, animal print, sweat bands and bandanas. Then of course there is the timeless classic of Pilates/Yoga mom. Her black stretchy Lululemons don’t leave much to the imagination but how is a Yogi supposed to perform the ancient ritual of downward dog without wearing $100 see through pants?

Many working moms may fantasize about ditching their panty hose and lounging around in elastics all day long. Trust me ladies, it gets old fast and your husband will start making fun of you and questioning your hygiene. If he were a stay at home Dad, he would surely wear his Sunday finest to walk the dog and feed the baby. For me, I yearn to put on a pencil skirt, uncomfortable heels, a little make up, and to have an excuse to take a shower every morning. It looks like I’ll be getting my wish. The classroom is calling and my husband has decided that my teacher paycheck isn’t so shabby after all. Stay tuned as Kafkateach braves the digital classroom next Fall! I was just informed that the district will be equipping all ninth graders with tablet computers. This could get interesting…

“In what other profession…!” This is the favorite starting point for teacher haters lurking in the Internet’s dark world of online commenting sections below education articles. It is usually followed by several outrageous claims about the teaching profession. “In what other profession do people: have four months off, work six hours a day, have amazing benefits, retire at 40, get a raise every year, have a job for life, not get evaluated, not have to perform, and not get held accountable for anything.”  Funny, I feel like teachers are held accountable for everything these days including the national security and economic well being of the United States. Last time I checked that was Congress’s job, but they’ve been too busy holding hearings about baseball players using performance enhancing drugs.  If only there was a performance enhancing drug for teachers! The nation would be saved!

A Facebook post from a teacher the other day about not being able to use the copier at school, followed by comments from other teachers about only getting ten copies a day (note to administrators, most classes have at least 30 students in them), having to buy their own dry erase markers, transparencies, printers…. etc. got me thinking about ways in which the teaching profession is truly unique. The following is a list of “in what other profession” statements about teaching:

  1. In what other profession are barriers actually set up to prevent an employee from doing their job and the employee is responsible for buying their own office supplies and equipment? This varies from school to school.   The last school where I briefly worked was like the Shangri la of teaching supplies. They actually left the room to the office supplies unlocked! I got to laminate something for the first time in ten years of teaching! They had multiple functioning copiers which teachers were allowed to use! This is not normal. It was like the teaching Twilight Zone.  In most schools massive barricades are set up to prevent teachers from copying anything. If a teacher does manage to gain access to a copy machine, a top-secret security code will prevent them from actually making any copies. Apparently nothing a teacher could have to make a copy of is of any importance and not necessary for student success. Anything and everything an administrator makes copies of is crucial, especially if it has to do with testing. Every year heavy, colorful cardstock packets of testing schedules are placed in teachers’ mailboxes.  Inevitably, there will be some mistake and the whole fifty page packet will appear again in our mailboxes with corrections. Or my personal favorite, at meetings when they print out a thirty-page power point presentation but teachers can’t even read anything because the writing is so small in those little boxes. Meanwhile, I’ve managed to save a dusty, disease ridden class set of every article and test I’ve used over the past ten years. I’ve spent hours whiting out the inevitable adolescent depictions of male genitalia that appear despite my repeated pleas to students to never write on anything I give them.

2. In what other profession are employees treated like children at meetings and professional development?  Maybe I’m old school, but I always thought the point of a meeting was actually to sit down and discuss matters of importance. Your standard staff meeting, however, has turned into an excuse for another PD session where teachers are forced to think-pair-share and create KWL charts on over sized sticky post-it note paper that most teachers could only dream of having in their classrooms.  This is the kind of torture that inspires teachers to start writing anonymous blogs. Check out one of the most brilliantly funny teacher blogs ever written about a teacher dialing in a fake bomb threat just to end a faculty meeting http://teachbad.com/2010/12/28/teacher-fakes-bomb-threat-ends-faculty-meeting/.   For more insight into the secret lives of teachers, this viral video of professional development in Chicago was recently circulating on the Internet http://preaprez.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/this-video-of-cps-professional-development-goes-viral-pd-on-crack/.  In it the teachers are expected to mindlessly repeat after the presenter as she models the best practice of “choral reading.” This video was not shocking to any teacher. It was merely a painful reminder of the indignities of our profession.

3. Speaking of indignities, in what other profession can you only use the bathroom twice a day? Is one of the reasons that younger teachers are preferred because they have stronger bladders? When you do get to use the bathroom, it is often a smelly student bathroom with urine on the seat, feminine hygiene products on the floor, the most vile curse laden graffiti imaginable on the walls, and of course, no toilet paper.  Two things prevented me from becoming a teacher for many years: the bureaucracy and the bathrooms.

4. In what other profession is fifty percent of your evaluation, and whether you get a raise or not, based on someone else’s performance? Whether it’s your students’ test scores, your students’ reading teacher’s test scores, or the reading average test score of your entire school, it is a factor completely out of your control. I have no problem being evaluated as a teacher but please evaluate ME on MY job performance.  Was I always prepared for class with an engaging lesson? Were a reasonable amount of grades entered in a timely fashion? Did I maintain an informative teacher webpage? Did I respond to parent email promptly and politely? Did I contribute to the school community? Did my student’s portfolios show “growth” over the course of the year? There are so many better ways to fairly evaluate an educator besides test scores. If only they would ask us.

5. In what other profession will you never be asked for your professional opinion? Everybody has an opinion on how to improve education but nobody will dare listen to a teacher. Politicians and billionaires who have never spent more than a photo op in a public school get to become the education advocates (think Jeb Bush and Bill Gates), while the teachers who spend half of their lives in the trenches are treated like union thugs only interested in their own benefits.

6. In what other profession do people feel the need to make disparaging remarks about your field at the end of every article? Before the Miami Herald required commenters to login using their Facebook accounts, there were some real nutcases out there who would immediately use any education article (whether it had to do with teachers or not) to bash greedy, lazy, stupid teachers with their pensions and summers off for the downfall of America.

7. Let me end on a positive “in what other profession” statement. In what other profession are you greeted with former students who will walk by your classroom to give you a hug and tell you they love you everyday during lunch? And, yes, we do get summers off (if we married well and don’t have to work at TGIF to pay the rent in June, July and August).

Feel free to live your own “in what other profession” statements (good or bad) in the commenting section.

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting warmer, the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom, and runners are taking to the streets. Perhaps that’s what inspired President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to announce the launch of yet another round of Race to the Top, the competitive federal grant program that has given us such wonders as value added teacher rankings, the Common Core Curriculum, and “personalized learning” via lecture hall sized classes in front of computer monitors.  So what are we racing for this time? In round three of Race to the Top we are racing for “equity”. The paradox of holding a race for equity appears to have escaped the mental capacities of the Obama Administration’s education policymakers, but the irony was not lost on the School Superintendents Association’s executive director, Noelle Ellerson,

“We question the sincerity behind the call for equity when, by construction, the program creates a system of winners and losers,” she said. “http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2014/03/obama_pitches_race_to_the_top_.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS2

Who knows? Maybe this race will operate like my son’s preschool soccer league at the YMCA.  After throwing himself on the ground at the beginning of every practice kicking and screaming, my husband quit taking him after three weeks, but he was still awarded a trophy at the end of the season.  Maybe even the most resistant school districts will end up being awarded some federal cash incentives if only they comply with the wishes of Washington.

So what does Washington wish for this time? Mr. Duncan still seems to think educational equity can be created by transferring our high performing teachers (which most likely happen to work at high income schools) to low performing schools (which most likely happen to be low income schools).

“U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted on a call with reporters that there isn’t a single school district that is “systemically identifying” its “hardest-working” teachers and “moving that talent to underserved communities.””

Perhaps if Mr. Duncan had bothered to read some of the literature that his own department funds, he wouldn’t be foolish enough to believe that a simple teacher swap would create equity in our schools. (Hmm… this would make a great reality TV show! “Teacher Swap,” tune in every week to see what happens when you take a high performing teacher out of the suburbs and throw them into a low performing school in the ghetto).  Me thinks that most teachers know how this series would end given the fact that only 5% of the high performing teachers that were offered $20,000 to switch schools actually took up the offer and 60% of them left after their two year commitment was up http://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2014/01/review-transfer-incentives.  The study by Mathematica and funded by the U.S. Department of Education, concluded that paying excellent teachers a bonus to transfer to low performing schools yielded disappointing results.

So maybe Mr. Duncan missed this one study.  I’m sure he’s up to date on the literature from his alma mater.  The Harvard Educational Press recently conducted a study on the success of a turn around school in Charlotte Mecklenburg county. http://ui.uncc.edu/story/cms-school-turnaround-harvard-educational-press.

Factors which helped improve the school’s performance included: enhancing the physical environment, parental involvement, strong leadership, teacher collaboration and small class sizes.  Surely Mr. Duncan would include funding that would encourage teacher collaboration and small class sizes? Well, maybe this study slipped underneath his radar as well.

Mary Kuslar, NEA director of government relations, reacted to Race to the Top round three with a bit of criticism, “We were disappointed to see the cut in [overall aid for teacher quality],” said Kusler. Those dollars are important “for delivering professional development and class-size reduction that we know our students need in order to succeed.”

So funding for teacher quality and class size reduction was cut while funding for pay for performance was increased.  Because we know nothing encourages teacher collaboration more than paying them according to their test rankings!

Bottom line is that the Obama Administration loves data. They love collecting data, storing data and funding data.  At the end of the day, however, they don’t seem to give a hoot about what all that data actually tells them.

Let me start with the positive. Some Florida newspapers have actually started covering teacher VAM rankings in a more investigative way than just publishing the entire database.  The Tampa Bay Times covered the story of award winning teachers with less than stellar VAM rankings here http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/confused-by-floridas-teacher-performance-scores-so-are-award-winning/2168062.  A public school parent wrote a wonderful letter defending his child’s teachers with negative VAM rankings and it was published in the business section of the Florida Times Union (someone besides teachers might actually read it)! http://jacksonville.com/business/premium/columnists/2014-03-01/story/mark-woods-my-vam-much-less-exact-far-more-accurate. The Miami Herald…..well….they seem to be asleep at the wheel on this one.

Now back to the absurd. Somehow the Florida Times Union managed to find the one teacher in Florida who just loves VAM! To make matters worse, she’s a math and science teacher with a negative VAM ranking.

“In Duval County, among the current 15 semifinalists vying for Teacher of the Year, there are at least two teachers with negative VAM scores. Desirae Royal, a JEB Stuart Middle School science and math teacher, had a negative VAM score, but she suspects there’s some truth in it.

“I feel like I could have had greater values in some areas as far as student performance,” she said.

Being a mathematician, she loves formulas.

“I love VAM scores, and I love the model because I like the accountability,” she said. “I grade my students. I work in public service. Why shouldn’t I be graded?”

 http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2014-03-01/story/data-shows-one-third-floridas-top-educators-have-students-progressing#ixzz2urQIXobQ

Who is this woman? A Michelle Rhee secret operative? Is she auditioning for the token Teacher of the Year panel slot on Bill Gates’ propaganda showcase Education Nation?  The Times Union was smart to interview someone in the running for Teacher of the Year.  She probably didn’t want to jeopardize her chances of winning a new Honda Civic by daring to say something negative about her district’s evaluation system. Sounds like Ms. Royal has an excellent future as a spokesperson for the Duval County school district, or if she aims big, the FLDOE. Either that, or she’s completely clueless.  A math and science teacher who takes no issue with a formula that has been proven time and time again to have serious reliability and validity issues, even by the same institute that created the Florida Model http://pareonline.net/pdf/v17n17.pdf, is not one that I want teaching my kids. Did she fail Statistics 101?

The story gets even more absurd. I posted the link to this article with the following comment “Who is this teacher? What was she smoking when they interviewed her?” in the Badass Teacher Facebook group (a group I hesitated to join in the first place because I thought their name was a bit tacky) and the moderators asked me to edit the post because it looked like I was teacher bashing and they couldn’t have any references to drugs.  This from a group that calls itself  “badass”?  They were polite when they asked me to censor myself and since it was their group, they get to make the rules. I caved and edited it.  Thank goodness I have this blog where I am free to be my brash irreverent self!

Before anyone accuses me of teacher bashing, let me say, “Yes. I am teacher bashing.”  I am bashing this one teacher who just threw her entire profession under the VAM bus. I am generally tolerant of different viewpoints, but I plan to fully bash anyone that supports and openly declares their LOVE for VAM. Especially a math teacher with a negative VAM ranking!  VAM is the ultimate form of teacher bashing, even more so when it is published in newspaper. To make a statement professing one’s love for VAM, the same week your colleagues are being completely demoralized and having their hard earned professional reputations irreparably damaged over this pseudo-science garbage, is the ultimate betrayal.  I understand some teachers are afraid of criticizing the system for fear of losing their jobs, but as someone who has openly come out against VAM since the beginning, who has published opinion pieces, spoken to journalists under my real name, and who has devoted two years writing a blog trying to expose this fraud, I’m disgusted that any teacher in this state at this point in time feels the need to declare their love of VAM in a major newspaper.

In my last blog post I revealed that I conducted a very unscientific study and concluded that I might possibly have the worst VAM score at my school.   Today I conducted a slightly more scientific analysis and now I can confidently proclaim myself to be the worst teacher at my school, the 14th worst teacher in Dade County, and the 146th worst (out of 120,000) in the state of Florida! There were 4,800 pages of teachers ranked highest to lowest on the Florida Times Union website and my VAM was on page 4,795. Gosh damn! That’s a bad VAM!  I always feared I might end up at the low end of the spectrum due to the fact that I teach gifted students that score high already and have no room to grow, but 146th out of 120,000?!?! That’s not “needs improvement.” That’s “you really stink and should immediately have your teaching license revoked before you do anymore harm to innocent children” bad. That’s, “your odds are so bad you better hope you don’t get eaten by a shark or struck by lightening” bad.  This is the reason I don’t play the lotto or gamble in Vegas. And to think some other Florida teacher had the nerve to write a blog post declaring herself to be one of the worst teachers in the state and her VAM was only -3%! http://simoneryals.blogspot.com/2014/02/im-one-of-worst-teachers-in-my-state.html. Negative 3 percent is the best you got honey? I’ll meet your negative 3 percent and raise you another negative 146 percentage points! (Actually I enjoyed her blog post and I hope more teachers come out of their VAM closets soon).

Speaking of coming out of the VAM closet, I managed to hunt down the emails of about ten other bottom dwellers as posted by the Florida Times Union. I was attempting to conduct a minor survey of what types of teachers end up getting slammed by VAM. Did they have anything in common? What types of students did they teach? As of this moment, none of them have returned my emails. I really wanted to get in touch with “The Worst Teacher in the State of Florida” according to VAM. After a little cyber stalking, it turns out she’s my teaching twin. She also teaches ninth grade world history to gifted students in a preIB program.  The runner up for “Worst Teacher in the State of Florida” teaches at an arts magnet school.  Are we really to believe that teachers selected to teach in an IB program or magnet school are the very worst the state of Florida has to offer? Let me tell you a little something about teaching gifted students. They are the first kids to nark out a bad teacher because they don’t think anyone is good enough to teach them. First they’ll let you know to your face that they’re smarter than you and you stink at teaching. Then they’ll tell their parents and the gifted guidance counselor who will nark you out to the Principal. If you suck as a gifted teacher, you won’t last long.

I don’t want to ignore the poor teachers that get slammed by VAM on the opposite end of the spectrum either. Although there appeared to be many teachers of high achievers who scored poorly under VAM, there also seemed to be an abundance of special education teachers as well.  These poor educators are often teaching children with horrible disabilities who will never show any learning gains on a standardized test. Do we really want to create a system that penalizes and fires the teachers whose positions we struggle the hardest to fill? Is it any wonder that teachers who teach the very top performers and teachers who teach the lowest performers would come out looking the worst in an algorithm measuring learning gains? I suck at math and this was immediately obvious to me.

Another interesting fact garnered from my amateur and cursory analysis of Florida VAM data is the fact that high school teachers overwhelming populated the bottom of the VAM rankings. Of the 148 teachers who scored lower than me, 136 were high school teachers. Ten were middle school teachers, and only two elementary school teachers.  All of this directly contradicts the testimony of Ms. Kathy Hebda, Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality, in front of the Florida lawmakers last year regarding the Florida VAM.

Hebda presented charts to the House K-12 Education Subcommittee that show almost zero correlation between teachers’ evaluation scores and the percentages of their students who are poor, nonwhite, gifted, disabled or English language learners. Teachers similarly didn’t get any advantage or disadvantage based on what grade levels they teach.

“Those things didn’t seem to factor in,” Hebda said. “You can’t tell for a teacher’s classroom by the way the value-added scores turned out whether she had zero percent students on free and reduced price lunch or 100 percent.”

Hebda’s 2013 testimony in two public hearings was intended to assure policymakers that everything was just swell with VAM as an affirmation that the merit pay provision of the 2011 Student Success Act (SB736) was going to be ready for prime time in the scheduled 2015 roll-out. No wonder the FLDOE didn’t want actual VAM date released as data completely contradicts Hebda’s assurances that “the model did its job.” http://bobsidlethoughtsandmusings.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/has-top-fldoe-numbers-cruncher-changed-her-tune-on-vam/

I certainly have been a little disappointed with the media coverage of the FLDOE losing its lawsuit and being forced to release Florida teacher VAM data this week.  The Florida Times Union considers this data to be a treasure trove of information but they haven’t dug very deep into the data they fought so hard to procure. The Miami Herald barely acknowledged that anything noteworthy happened in education news this week.  You would think some other journalist would have thought to cover a story about “The Worst Teacher in Florida.” I write this blog to cover teacher stories that major media outlets don’t seem interested in telling (that, and I am trying to stave off early dementia while on maternity leave).  One journalist bothered to dig up the true story behind the top ten teachers in Florida, http://educationbythenumbers.org/content/top-10-teachers-florida-illustrate-messy-absurd-new-teacher-data_953/. But no one has bothered telling the stories of the bottom ten. Those are the teachers who are most likely to be fired and have their teaching licenses revoked by the state. Let those stories be told. Let the public see what kinds of teachers they are at risk of losing to this absurd excuse of an “objective measure of teacher effectiveness” before it’s too late.

I knew this day would come.  Despite colleagues, administrators and union stewards saying that our VAMs would never be published in a newspaper, they were published in The Florida Times Union this week http://jacksonville.com/content/aggregated-school-and-teacher-data-20112012. Having become a bit of a VAMologist over the past two years, I knew that VAM data had been published in newspapers in Los Angeles and New York.  It was only a matter of time before a Florida newspaper was desperate enough to publish teacher ratings for increased readership. Hmm…I wonder if including the link in my blog will boost my readership?

I found out about the newspaper winning its lawsuit against the FLDOE by reading the Education Commissioner’s email to Florida teachers in Diane Ravitch’s blog http://dianeravitch.net/2014/02/24/florida-outrage-junk-science-ratings-will-be-released-to-media.  It was a bizarre mix of expressing empathy for teachers, praising their hard work and success while maintaining that student growth measures were an integral part of the evaluation process. Normally, most teachers would be cheering the news of the FLDOE losing a lawsuit. The biggest losers in this battle, however, would end up being the teachers with their dirty VAMs hung out for the whole world to see.   The FEA had even joined forces with the enemy to keep our VAM data private.

Having spent months emailing the FLDOE and even filing my own Freedom of Information request last year in an attempt to access my personal VAM data without any success, I have to admit it was pretty amazing to have a searchable database which instantly gave me the VAM score that had endlessly eluded me.  The only problem was now the entire world could also access this information.  At first I checked the 2011-12 data and my VAM was .51%, meaning from my very rudimentary understanding, that I was a slightly better than average teacher according to VAM.  Having performed slightly better than average my whole life, I was OK with this and for a moment I thought maybe this VAM thing had me all figured out.  Then I checked my VAM score for the 2012-13 school year. Yikes, a negative 1.49%! My students had underperformed! Suddenly, I was a worse than average teacher according to VAM.  So what does an underperforming teacher do next? Of course they start looking up all of the other teachers’ VAM scores at their school to see exactly how underperforming they are.  It became clear after my very unscientific analysis of about twenty other teacher VAMs at my school, that I could possibly be the worst teacher at my school according to VAM!  The few other teachers who were also on the negative side of the VAM formula, had not so coincidently instructed many of the same students.  Should we assume we were a crappy bunch of educators? Or that we just had the misfortune of instructing a crappy group of students that year?  Or perhaps, just maybe, the FLDOE’s $10 million algorithm is complete crap?

So tonight I will rest my head upon my pillow knowing that I was labeled one of the worst teachers at my school by VAM.  I may have to douse myself with an entire bottle of lavender essential oil in order to get any sleep knowing that my fellow teachers, students, parents, administrators, Russian computer hackers and Nigerian scam kings can also see what a terrible teacher I am according to VAM.  Welcome to teaching in the Digital Age!

I originally started this blog as a coping mechanism to deal with the absurdity coming out of the Florida Legislature and its wacky implementation in the Miami Dade County school system.  After six months in North Carolina, Florida is starting to seem like a bastion of sanity and teacher love. The latest ideas circulating at the North Carolina General Assembly regarding how to reform the teaching profession certainly makes one wonder what exactly is in the water supply in Raleigh? Is it some brain eating teacher-hating amoeba? Or perhaps some chemical contamination laced with teacher hate? Apparently last year’s legislation to end tenure, abolish pay for advanced degrees, and reward the top 25% of teachers with a $500 raise only if they give up tenure four years early was not insulting enough.  The highlights of this year’s 60/30/10 plan include: paying teachers on a per pupil basis, establishing career tracks, forcing all teachers to reapply for their jobs, and the ultimate kick in the wazoo, mandatory retirement after 20 years of service.

http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/01/21/latest-nc-teacher-compensation-plan-would-significantly-reduce-education-spending-encourage-teacher-turnover/

Allow Kafkateach to briefly deconstruct each one of these brain farts:

  1. The “Android Super Teacher Capable of Rescuing the Minds of Countless Number of Students” model.  Ah…the Industrial Revolution has finally caught up with the teaching profession. Efficiency above all else, dang it.  Why should we pay a teacher who is capable of managing 50 students in a room at a time the same amount that we pay weaker teachers who might actually be interesting in learning your child’s name?

“Let’s allow a capable and willing teacher who has “flipped” his or her classroom to increase class sizes and teach more classes. The solution to the education problem becomes fewer core area teachers, each with more students – reallocating the salaries of a few traditional teaching positions toward the teachers who are willing and able to serve additional students.” http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/01/21/latest-nc-teacher-compensation-plan-would-significantly-reduce-education-spending-encourage-teacher-turnover/#sthash.S7IobRfw.dpuf

The idea of paying teachers extra for teaching more students is not new and is currently implemented in Miami Dade County where teachers are paid a supplement for teaching an extra class.  As a teacher who has enjoyed receiving the supplement for teaching an extra period, I am not opposed to this plan as long as there are class size limitations and maximum student loads. Otherwise, teachers and administrators will be motivated to smash as many little bodies in a room as possible in order to receive extra payment.  Teachers will also have no planning periods under this model. I have turned down the extra pay knowing that I would not be able to properly do my job and maintain my sanity without a planning period.  Therefore, I must not be a “capable” teacher and be banished to “Apprentice” career status with the slave wage of $32,000.  Which brings me to teacher career tracks aspect of this plan.

  1. The “Apprentice, Master, Career” model, AKA the 60/30/10 plan. Under this caste system, 60% of North Carolina would be determined to be worthy of “Apprentice” status and earn a $32,000 a year salary. After three years of teaching, taking a mandatory online training program (hmm… I wonder which big testing company might benefit from that juicy government contract?), and demonstrating effective teaching based on “customer survey data” 30% of teachers may be promoted to Master teacher status.  I guess little five-year old students and moody adolescents will become the “customers” deciding the fate of their Apprentice teachers? The lucky (and perhaps politically connected) ten percent of teachers will be worthy of being “Career” status teachers and earn $72,000 if they have an advanced degree and take on leadership positions. Huh? Didn’t they just eliminate pay based on advanced degrees last year?  Of course, for this 60/30/10 caste system to be implemented all teachers will have to reapply for their jobs.
  1. The “You Thought You Had a Job” model. Only people who have applied for a job in a public school district know the horrific layers of bureaucracy that must be navigated in order to make $32,000 a year. Applying for certification, ordering transcripts, thirty pages of a paperwork, in Charlotte Mecklenburg a fifty page psychological survey (pick C), drug testing, finger printing …etc. I avoided the teaching profession for many years just because of my disdain for bureaucracy. How exactly will the bureaucrats handle every teacher in North Carolina reapplying for their job at the same time? I sent in transcripts and paperwork for a North Carolina license six months ago and still haven’t received anything. Once these teachers have reapplied and hopefully been given the same job back, 60 percent of them will have to be booted down to Apprentice level.  What if by some miracle an 18-year veteran teacher has managed to earn $50,000 in the state of North Carolina? Do they get knocked down to $32,000 after they reapply for their job? Notice I deliberately wrote “18 year veteran” teacher. I wanted to write “20 year veteran” teacher but there won’t be any 20 year veteran teachers in the state of North Carolina if this legislation gets passed.
  2. The “You Better Die Young” model. Even those lucky enough to be labeled a “Career” teacher will find themselves without a career after 20 years of service in North Carolina. All teachers must retire after 20 years of teaching (will they immediately receive a pension?).  What exactly is the justification for kicking out your most experienced workers? I know supermodels, Hollywood actresses, and professional athletes have expiration dates on their careers. But those people also make millions of dollars and if they invest wisely they can sustain themselves once they are past their prime. While $72,000 is a comfortable salary, it certainly won’t last anyone past their twenty years of service.  Your 20 year veteran teacher is most likely to be in their early forties if they were stupid enough to go into teaching after graduating from college because they had some godforsaken “calling” or “love for children” and they will most likely be saddled with the burden of caring for young children and possibly aging parents at the same time. This leaves little time for launching a new career path in the middle of your life.

Let’s just hope if any of this backwater nonsense manages to pass the General Assembly this summer that whatever happens in North Carolina stays in North Carolina.

***Update*** The author of the 60/30/10 plan, Lodge McKammon, has come out as saying this was part of a private discussion and was not meant to be shared publicly. Note to Mr. McKammon, any idea brainstormed in private that you are embarrassed to share publicly is most likely a bad idea. http://dianeravitch.net/2014/01/22/author-of-nc-proposal-responds/. Let’s just hope these ideas stay in whatever dark cave they were brainstormed in.

***Update #2***The author has stated that they have removed the 20 year automatic termination and career implosion mandate. I guess on second thought and probably with an abundance of negative feedback, forced retirement after 20 years seemed a bit harsh.

I was planning on hanging up my keyboard, but sometimes the universe puts things in our inboxes that demand immediate Internet posting and hopefully wide dispersal. Besides, this housewife thing is getting dreadfully boring. My life is nothing like that of a Bravo Real Housewife. I do not spend my days having lunch in trendy restaurants, lingerie shopping with the girls, or recovering from plastic surgery procedures. I spend my days cleaning up bodily fluids from children aged 5- 9 months and unloading dishwashers and laundry machines. I must not be a Real  Housewife. Domestic slave might be a better term. The drudgery of household chores is tolerable, the isolation can be insanity inducing. A former teacher in my neighborhood who is now on maternity leave actually goes and hangs out at the bus stop just to have another human being to talk to.  Bus fumes give me migraines, so I blog instead. On to the document that brought Kafkateach out of retirement. Any teacher in danger of being VAMmed must immediately click and read the entirety of this link (gosh that sounds like SPAM but we are dealing with VAM, something equally lacking in substance and an annoying waste of time). http://oada.dadeschools.net/VAM%20Information/ForTeachersVAMFAQsv4.pdf

I promise I did not write this (though it is perhaps the most Kafkaesque VAM document to be published by an educational bureaucracy yet).  A few months back in one of my 2 a.m. delusional moments of blogging, I wrote a blog post of an imaginary question and answer session between a teacher and VAM http://kafkateach.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/if-vam-could-talk-what-would-it-say/.  The scary part is, some of the questions and answers in the Miami Dade VAM document and my satirical Kafkateach responses are shockingly similar.  Could this be a case of life imitating art? Hardly, since this blog could never be called “art”, but maybe some Miami Dade overpaid bureaucrat in the research and statistics department came across my blog? Both documents were published in May 2013 so know telling which one came first.  Although the voice of VAM in my document uses the token response of “No comment” for most of the teacher’s questions, the real life Dade County voice of VAM gives answers that are the bureaucratic equivalent of  “No comment” just with a bunch of statistical mumbo jumbo thrown in.  Case in point, compare the last two questions and answers on the Dade document to the Kafkateach blog:

Question: How can I know how high my students are expected to score?

Answer: The actual expectation is complicated to figure out precisely. However, the single best predictor is the student’s score from the previous year. Perhaps you have an understanding of your students’ percentile standings within the State from last year. To the extent that they improve on their percentile standings, your VAM estimate will improve. Think of it like this: you and your students are competing against similar students in the State. Instruct your students so that they outscore their peers in the State. That will translate into a higher VAM estimate.

Question: But the VAM doesn’t give me any useable advice for improving my classes. What teaching behaviors should I change to improve my VAM score?

Answer: You may receive useful advice on that issue from many different sources. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the VAM methodology that addresses ways to improve the effectiveness of your teaching.

These were the last two questions on the Kafkateach blog:

Teacher: Would it be possible for you to provide your predictions for how much our students are expected to grow at the beginning of the year so we can better monitor their progress through the use of district interim assessments?

VAM: That’s Top Secret information. If I told you, I would have to kill you

Teacher: Before you leave VAM, only to return again a year past any usefulness, can you offer a “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” teacher any constructive feedback on how they can better serve their students and enhance their craft?

VAM:  No comment for helping your students. You can better serve yourself by finding a new group of students to teach and by sabotaging your fellow teachers.  Steal their books, distract their class, invite all their students to a pizza party in your classroom during the other teacher’s class time.  Their students won’t show much growth over the year and you will look like the master of bioengineering a super crop of test takers.

OK, so maybe my plagiarism case wouldn’t stand up in a court of law. But I do find it odd that the last two questions in the Dade County document are essentially the same as the last two questions in my blog. Just another one of my crazy VAM conspiracy theories perhaps.  The sad part is, in both documents the teacher is left feeling equally bewildered and helpless over a formula that now controls their career.  They’ve been VAMmed.

If you’ve been VAMmed, please share your experience in the commenting section below.

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