merit pay

“Shut it down!” has become a popular protest slogan these days thanks to documented cases of police brutality, but perhaps union leaders, educators, students and parents across the state of Florida can organize a protest outside the FLDOE and chant those same words this spring?  What exactly is the point of a government financed institution that releases batch after batch of baloney data? Take for instance this chart released by the FLDOE pertaining to class size compliance

http://www.tampabay.com/resources/documents/2014/12/Attachment_1_-_Traditional_Schools.pdf

Miami Dade is reported to have zero classrooms over the 25 student class size cap for grades 9-12. Maybe teachers or the union could compile their own spreadsheet based on actual class sizes calculated the old fashioned way (counting the number of students in a room at one time).  I have a feeling that the actual numbers of classrooms out of compliance would far exceed the number zero derived at by using the district’s hocus pocus math.  Anytime you see the number “zero” or “100%” in a government spreadsheet alarm bells should be ringing.

The state released another batch of goobledigook numbers last week in the form of teacher VAM scores. One teacher who managed to circumvent the Florida Times Union paywall for a brief second saw that she had a VAM score for the 2013-14 school year even though she retired in 2012.  If the Florida Times Union continues its holiday tradition of VAM shaming Florida teachers, I hope they also run a story on how the numbers calculated by the FLDOE and school districts across the state are nothing but balderdash! (Please note that I am running out of old fashioned G-rated synonyms for the word that refers to excrement from a certain animal). As if the FLDOE VAM rankings aren’t bad enough, districts are coming up with some very creative and utterly invalid ways to calculate the student growth portion of our evaluations. Here is what we are doing in Dade for secondary school teachers:

1. If you are a reading, english or math instructor, expect the new FSA assessments to count for 50% of your evaluation. Never mind that this is the first year it has been given and there is no way to measure growth for a test that a student has never taken. Your VAM will be calculated by the state and most likely published in the Florida Times Union next December.

2. If you teach a state EOC like US History, your VAM will also be calculated by the FLDOE.

3. If you teach AP or IB courses, they will rank your pass rates against your peers even though you may be teaching entirely different types of students and some of you may be able to hand select your students while others have their AP courses treated like a dumping ground. If you have the AVID program at your school, God help you.

4. If you teach a DDEOC (District Designated End of Course) subject, the district will calculate your VAM based on your students’ performance on a district designed end of course exam that you are not allowed to see. Some departments have provided teachers with a study guide but other departments have not.

5. Teach a specialized elective course? Congratulations! You won the VAM lotto! You get to design your own test. Not only do you design your own test, you also get to administer it to your own students! Of course this used to be called a “final exam” but finals never counted for 50% of your evaluation or could potentially award you hundreds or thousands in merit pay. I’m not sure who the district will rank you against to derive your student growth number since if you are designing your own test there are probably only five of you teaching the course in the entire district.

I guess the only solace to this nonsense is that President Obama’s Race to the Top program was denied funding by Congress so there won’t be any money to give teachers merit pay anyway. Personally, I don’t think Obama or Duncan give a hoot that Congress won’t fund anymore of their “race down the rabbit hole” competitions. The testing, data gathering, and computer purchasing contracts have already been awarded. Teacher tenure has been destroyed, and younger teachers have been forced to accept a promise of merit pay that may never materialize while older teachers may have their pay frozen in time. Teachers and students have been brutalized by the FLDOE and the DOE for years, maybe it’s time to shut them both down.

grinch

Kafkateach has not been feeling the Christmas spirit this season. Apparently, neither have the administrators at my school. The annual holiday luncheon is always the one day a year where the staff can actually sit down, enjoy a meal and converse with their peers. This year, however, they cut into our festive lunch by making us sit through an hour PD before we could be fed. What’s worse than a PD right before the holiday luncheon? A PD about the new high stakes testing to occur this March. What’s worse than a PD about high stakes testing right before your Christmas party? A PD about high stakes testing delivered in the “gradual release model” mode of instruction. The testing chair, Reading department chair and English department chair tried to make it festive by wearing Santa hats and writing “Ho, Ho, Ho” on large poster size sticky notes but it was still a major buzz kill. “Hey guys, before we set you loose to enjoy some non-alcoholic egg nog and rice and beans, we wanted to tell you about some new tests that 80% of your students don’t have a chance in hell of passing and we don’t even have the computer infrastructure to administer. Merry Christmas!”

The testing chair started our PD by stating, “I didn’t want to give you some boring PD on a powerpoint. Today we’re going to do something more exciting and use the gradual release model.” For those of you outside of Dade County, the gradual release model is the district’s answer to all of our pedagogical woes. Teams of gradual release gurus have been raiding schools across the district and telling teachers they’re doing it all wrong. So what did this new miracle mode of instruction entail? Lots of sticky notes. Poster size sticky notes and little fluorescent sticky notes. The district is purchasing tablet computers for 150,000 students, investing in sophisticated software and installing Wi-Fi in every classroom all so they could train us how to teach using sticky notes.  Instead of reading 30 powerpoint slides to us, our trainers read 30 poster size sticky notes to us about the new tests. How innovative!  Software nerds around the world have developed new more engaging lecture formats like class flow, and our district is pushing post-it notes. Do you know how expensive those poster size sticky notes are? Every year I rely on donations from Adopt- a- Classroom to purchase poster size sticky notes. It’s $50 dollars for a pack of 40.  If you have 6 classes and break your classes into 8 groups, you’ve used up your $50 pack in one lesson. The district would never supply your average teacher with poster size sticky notes but that is always how they choose to model how we are supposed to teach.

Then the PD got even more Kafkaesque. They passed out small sticky notes for us to write our questions down so we could post them on the large sticky notes at the end of our PD as an “exit ticket.” But they kept calling on certain teachers to ask questions that were written on index cards. Has our PD come to this? Instructors have to plant questions so they can act like they actually have the answers to them? Is this how I am supposed to teach using the gradual release model? For my next observation, should I pass out higher level questions to my students and then call on them? Has my school’s PD turned into an Obama press conference? Whenever a teacher asked a rogue question, they were ignored and told to write it on their post-it note and they would get back to us a month later with the answer. When I went to post my sticky note questions on the large sticky note, they wouldn’t even stick. Here’s a suggestion, why don’t you ladies post a discussion on My Big Campus or Edmodo next time and everybody can refer back to the discussion when they have questions about testing?

I can’t blame my co-workers for delivering a less than innovative or informative PD session about the new tests. When they asked the district experts basic questions like “How much will the writing portion of the exam be weighted in the overall FSA score?”  The district answer was, “We don’t know. The state is using a secret formula.” Maybe there is something more exciting about the gradual release model but our school’s designated GRM guru somehow becomes ill every time she is supposed to train our school. The one time she showed up was when the FLDOE was visiting and the other time was to attend a free breakfast with the district. I’m sure she’s not the only person working downtown who feels ill at the thought of returning to an actual classroom with real live students who might actually get off task during group work or draw a penis on the poster size post-it note.

 In case you haven’t noticed Dade County teachers, everyone who works downtown is about downtown and what goes on downtown. When you look at the 2014 Miami Dade School Board Legislative Agenda, it is all about making themselves look good. Besides  working to reduce the fine for overcrowded core classrooms and rigging it so school wide averages could be used instead, the School Board also made sure to LOWER their revenues by cutting the FEFP tax rate from 96% to 94% and to grant a transitional period for school districts and schools from the new exams but offered no protection for teachers or students. What kind of school district legislates to cut their own funding? Then they have the nerve to blame Tallahassee and the property appraiser for not being able to give us a decent raise. http://gafla.dadeschools.net/pdf/2014_State_Leg_Priorities.pdf

The new tests will be given in less than three months and I have never had any training on what these new tests entail. Yet somehow I am supposed to be preparing my students for these exams and fifty percent of my evaluation will be based on their performance. Of course the public won’t know any of this but they will get to see all of your VAM scores thanks to the Florida Times Union.

http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2014-12-11/story/teacher-effectiveness-scores-still-spark-controversy

 It’s become part of the holiday season to VAM shame Florida teachers across the state right before Christmas. Bah humbug!

class size

If you are a teacher in Florida, you may be wondering “Hey, what happened to the class size amendment this year?” Of course, you would have to be a teacher who was lucky enough to teach one of the 327 (out of 1200) courses still covered by the class size amendment. It seems every year since the Florida Class Size amendment was passed (twice), the Florida legislature has found a way to reduce the amount of courses that fall under the class size cap. In 2012, Advanced Placement teachers got a taste of what it’s like to be a PE teacher when AP classes were declared “electives” and AP class sizes ballooned to over 40 students. But now even teachers in core classes  have noticed that the class size amendment has seemingly disappeared this year. At my school we’ve been scratching our heads at Curricululm Council meetings trying to figure out why the district hasn’t released any additional funds to hire new teachers when we have 40 core classes of over 40 students each. After a few minutes of playing Google detective, I happened upon the answer to the riddle that has been befuddling teachers across the state,

http://static.lobbytools.com/bills/2014/pdf/AH0319A1442.pdf

A little known bill was passed last summer that now allows school districts that don’t meet class size caps to calculate class size based on school wide averages rather than the size of the individual class, thus greatly reducing the fine (by approximately 3/4) that school districts have to pay the state for being out of compliance. Here is some of the language of the bill:

The bill revises the method for calculating the penalty for traditional public schools that fail to comply with the class size requirements by performing the calculation in Steps 2, 3, and 4 at the school average instead of at the classroom level. The increase in the penalty scheduled to begin in FY 2014-15 and thereafter is repealed. School districts must continue to assign students to teachers in a manner that meets the classroom level maximums. Districts that exceed the classroom level maximums will still be required to implement a compliance plan. However, calculation of the penalty at the school average will reduce the monetary penalties levied against school districts.

The bill does not have a fiscal impact on state government. The bill’s changes to the compliance calculation for traditional public schools will likely have a positive fiscal impact on school districts. See Fiscal Impact on Local Governments.

The bill takes effect July 1, 2014.”

Not only does the state get away with not funding the class size amendment, but it actually makes money off of school districts who do not comply by imposing fines! Of course, this makes school districts hate the class size amendment as much as the Florida legislature and last summer our Superintendent of the Year made sure to hammer the final nail in the Florida class size amendment coffin by making sure the fine was reduced and school averages could be used for traditional public schools, (see list of 2014 Legislative priorities)

http://gafla.dadeschools.net/pdf/2014_State_Leg_Priorities.pdf

There seems to be great agreement among school district officials that small classes hurt students. Miami-Dade Assistant Superintendent Iraida Mendez-Cartaya spoke in support of the proposal. Mendez-Cartaya said complying with class-size limits was “not always in the best interest of family and students.”

Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/2014/01/14/4935631/florida-house-panel-reconsiders.html#storylink=cpy

In Brevard County, Cyndi Van Meter, Brevard’s associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction was quoted as saying,

“It wasn’t all about the money,” Van Meter said. “It was about doing what was best for kids.”

http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/2014/12/04/class-size-loophole-gives-brevard-schools-flexibility/19919861/

Apparently, it has become quite the rage for district officials to claim that large class sizes are in the best interest of children. It’s funny how you can follow up any absurd statement with “It’s what’s best for kids” and nobody will question you. Beware, “It’s what’s best for kids”  is usually preceded by a statement which coincides with adults making a lot of money. Watch how it works.

  • “We need to put vending machines in schools that sell addictive crap food. It’s what’s best for kids.”
  • “We need to give every student an iPad and digital curriculum. It’s what’s best for kids.”
  • “We need longer, tougher, more frequent computer based high stakes testing. It’s what’s best for kids.”

See how easy it is! The district claims it has no money to meet the Florida class size amendment, but it had money to pay for a full day substitute for me to attend a PD telling me how to teach the same way I’ve been teaching for the past ten years before it became packaged as a “history lab” or the “gradual release model.” They are taking teachers out of the classroom (teachers that could have been used to meet the class size amendment) and sending them around to schools across the district to terrorize other teachers into using group work. As one teacher with an inclusion class of 55 students pointed out at my PD session today, “You can’t put the kids in groups with 55 students in a room.” Amen sister.

 

 

 

colonoscopy

I have often criticized the union for having exorbitant member dues. UTD has the highest union dues in the state, if not the entire country, yet Dade County teachers are amongst the lowest compensated in the nation according to a recent report released by the National Council on Teacher Quality http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article4260331.html.

So people don’t accuse me of only complaining and not offering solutions, allow me to suggest one cost cutting measure for UTD. Get rid of that glossy paper copy of the UTD Activist that ends up in my mailbox every three months. It only makes me want to quit the union, especially the winter 2014 edition.  On the cover is a large photograph of our union president shaking hands with our Superintendent. They are both smiling ear to ear. I can see why our Superintendent is smiling from ear to ear (he hasn’t had to give teachers their contractually negotiated steps in years and has gotten away with giving away federally funded Race to the Top bonuses instead).  I don’t understand, however, why the UTD President is flashing his pearly whites. Apparently, the guy likes to smile and takes a lot of photos of himself. I counted at least nine photos of the union president smiling in the four page UTD Activist publication. Two of which have him with one arm around the NEA President and one arm  around the AFT President looking like quite the stud. I’m sure he’s pretty happy about his six figure salary and the larger salary he stands to earn as the Vice President of the FEA if he gets elected, but the average Dade County teacher doesn’t have much to smile about these days.  Underneath the front page photo of the handshake between the Union President and the Superintendent is a bullet list of the highlights of this year’s contract, which includes, A FREE COLONOSCOPY! The majority of you may only be getting a $300 raise, but now you can have an annual anal probe for free!  Here’s a list of some other ways Dade County teachers get to take it up the wazhoo this year:

1. I hope you didn’t think your step increase was retroactive and you would actually get the full amount. It kicked in on 11/21. No one can figure out if the annual stipend will be the full amount or is prorated. We’ll find out next week when we get our 12/12 paycheck.

2. Although I’m thrilled to see the union filing a lawsuit over the property appraiser’s unsatisfactory job performance of collecting taxes, http://www.utd.org/news/teachers-sue-miami-dade-mayor-carlos-gimenez why isn’t the district also a plaintiff? Shouldn’t the school district share the burden of legal expenses of making sure the county is properly funding its schools? If the union wins, every single penny collected better go back to teacher salaries since we funded the lawsuit.

3. The district is saving mega-bucks not honoring the class size amendment and teachers and students are the ones suffering. At a time when teachers are producing more and more with class loads over 200, they are not being rewarded in terms of pay. They are losing thousands every year in terms of salary supplements and the union is losing potential members because the district doesn’t have to hire new teachers. Why doesn’t the union at least negotiate a maximum student load for teachers? It seems like a basic element of our working conditions and student learning conditions.

4. The NCTQ report ranks Dade County teachers 90 out of 125 school districts when adjusted for cost of living. I think we would actually rank much lower if you looked at rents and housing prices in neighborhoods where people can live without bars on their windows. Not to mention that if you are a teacher in Dade County you must have a car. Public transportation is not an option, especially since you will frequently be sent to PD an hour away from your home or school site. Public highways are being turned into toll roads and the existing tolls are ever increasing. If I were a teacher on annual contract and had kids, there is no way I would remain a teacher in Dade County. You would be much better off in Palm Beach County or other parts of Florida.

If you think of any other ways Dade County teachers get to take it up the wazhoo this year, let readers know by leaving a comment below.

 

Wake up America! There is an epidemic sweeping across our youth. It’s not marijuana, Molly or their parents’ pharmaceutical drugs. Our children are addicted to Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

IMG_0138

Exhibit A

This is what my garbage can looks like after first period. That’s right America, our children have consumed ounces of red food coloring No.40, MSG and citric acid before 9 am. Perhaps Frito-lay should start a new add campaign, “Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, it’s what’s for breakfast.”  Or maybe, “Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the breakfast of Champions.” Below is a transcript of an actual conversation I had with a student at 8 am.

Student: Miss, you got any money?

Teacher: No. Why do you need money?

Student: I’m hungry Miss. I didn’t eat any breakfast.

Teacher: Why didn’t you eat any breakfast? The school serves free breakfast.

Student: I don’t eat that sh*t. It’s garbage.  (The student then asks to go to the bathroom and upon her return opens a bag of Flamin’ hot Cheetos).

Our schools are the breeding grounds for this epidemic. Once one student opens a cellophane bag of spicy red goodness, the other students will immediately pounce upon them like a pack of wolves  or they will all suddenly have to go to the bathroom. By the end of the period my classroom floor resembles the parking lot of a gas station. Empty Cheetos bags strewn on the floor like a crack addicts den.

Make know mistake America, flaming’ hot food products are addictive and they have been shown to cause hyperactivity in children http://www.npr.org/2011/03/30/134962888/fda-probes-link-between-food-dyes-kids-behavior The breakfast of most American teenagers consists of a Monster Energy drink and a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.  Is it any wonder they can’t sit still and focus on school? To make matters worse, our schools function as the drug pusher with snack machines pushing these products around every corner. Of course these days they have to push the “Oven Baked” “healthy” version of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, but they are still readily available in our hallways.  Exactly how much money do our schools make off of these snack machines? Is it worth it?

Apparently there is some regulation of snack products sold in schools. But there is always some way around those regulations. For example, big fat 500 calorie Ottis Spunkmeier muffins are sold by coaches between classes. They get around their excessive calories by the packaging label dividing the muffin up into three servings. Who the heck eats one third of a muffin? My favorite instance of public school bureaucrat snack nonsense was back in the day they sold pastelitos instead of muffins. For those not familiar with the Cuban delicacy, it is sticky gooey hot Miami mess of a pastry. The school district banned the guava filled pastelitos and the cheese filled pastelitos because they had too many calories, but continued to sell the guava and cheese pastelitos (not sure how the combination of the two reduced the calorie count but I didn’t care since those are the best kind anyway).  Instead of trying to regulate snacks (now our vending machines are stacked with fat free chips that are made with God knows what and only make the students hungrier) maybe we should just not sell snacks at all? Is our nation really so broke that our schools need to push products on students that we know are unhealthy just so they can get a few extra thousand a year? They are making this money off of the same students who qualify for free and reduced lunch but are choosing to buy vending machine garbage instead of eating the federally funded free breakfast and lunch. Just say no to Cheetos!

IMG_0141

 In the age of wireless, I’ve got wires. Lots of wires. The new teacher tablet the district bestowed upon me takes four wires to be transformed into a fully operational device. I’m not sure what this device is supposed to be. Is it a tablet or a desktop? When I think of tablet computers, I think of something sleek and easily transportable. How would I ever transport this monstrosity? The wires would turn into a jumbled mess and the docking station alone easily weighs five pounds. Why don’t I just try to stick my desktop computer in my bag and take that with me to a meeting, a PD session or my home? Has the district ever heard of something called a laptop? Can you imagine a staff meeting at Google with their employees lugging around an assortment of dangling wires? Who in their right mind thought this particular setup was a good idea? Nobody in the private sector would ever see this on display and say “I got to get me one of those!” Was this designed and purchased in the 1980s?  As a mini-desktop I guess it serves the purpose, but as a device that is supposed to be transported back and forth between my home and the classroom it is completely impractical. If I want to use the tablet and have it sit upright with a mouse and a keyboard I have to use the docking station and it has to be plugged in. This entirely defeats the purpose of Wi-Fi.  The FBI is busy raiding the LA school district for files on the iPad scandal http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-82163615/  but at least they got iPads! Of course they paid too much for an inferior product but that seems to be par for the course for public school districts.

Have other teachers ever noticed that the school supplies they get from their schools seem inferior to those they purchase for themselves in the stores? Staplers that don’t work and dry erase markers that don’t last one day always seem to come from my school’s supply office. Do businesses say to themselves “I’ve got a crappy product that nobody else wants and is slightly defective. Let me call up a large public school district and see if I can overcharge them for this junk.”  Case in point, just last night I got a dinner time robo-call from the school district telling me my child can receive a free flue vaccine. As soon as I hung up the phone, the nightly news was telling me that this year’s flu vaccine doesn’t even work http://www.nbcnews.com/health/cold-flu/cdc-warning-flu-viruses-mutate-evade-current-vaccine-n261226 . I wonder how much money my district pitched in to give an ineffective flu vaccine to all 350,000 students for free? Not to mention passing out six pages worth of copies to every student to inform their parents and fill out the necessary paperwork. Does the county realize where most of those copies ended up? Like every other copy the district puts in my inbox, it ends up all over my classroom floor. I’m doing my best to go paperless and the district keeps forcing me to pass out papers that litter my room and school hallways. I am sure the amount of paper that the district has forced me to pass out to my students this year has cost the district more money than my $300 raise.

Why do large public school districts seem to have money for everything except teacher salaries? http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/03/us/middle-class-pay-elusive-for-teachers-report-says.html?_r=2 There seems to be plenty of money in my district’s budget for bulky protective tablet cases that students remove at the first opportunity, and dangling keyboards that students are too lazy to bring to school. But when it comes to the element most important in the learning process, the human element, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEmuEWjHr5c&feature=youtu.be the district’s multi-billion dollar operating budget seems to perpetually run dry.

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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