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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ugly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kafkateach has been attending a lot of meetings lately. If you have been a reader of this blog for some time (all five of you), you know that there is nothing Kafkateach hates more than a meeting. But I’ve come to realize that if I want “a seat at the table”, I am going to literally have to sit at that table (or middle school auditorium as was the case with the meeting I attended last night). Kudos to the district for doing such a speedy job installing great wi-fi in all of our schools so now I can be super productive (or at least entertained) during one dry powerpoint after the next! Luckily the meeting about the progress of the bond only lasted an hour. I had envisioned a six hour torture session like the monthly School Board meetings. Even UTD refuses to put themselves through that kind of psychological torment. Since most of you did not attend the meeting, here are a few items I found news worthy:

 

  1. Part of the bond money was used installing new playground equipment. That’s awesome! Now if you could only get elementary schools to allow their kids to actually play on them more than 20 minutes twice a week.
  2. Speaking of elementary schools, for some reason the elementary schools got laptops and the high school students got tablets. Shouldn’t that be the opposite? I would kill for my students to be given a laptop instead of a tablet with a dongle that breaks after two seconds so you can’t even use a keyboard. I doubt many third graders know how to keyboard or have lengthy essays to write (judging by the length of my first grader’s homework assignments I may be wrong about this). Wouldn’t those elementary students prefer a nice touch screen they could draw on? Oh, I forgot. They don’t know how to draw since they got rid of art in kindergarten and first grade.
  3. The district is planning on paying a stipend for Saturday social studies teacher device training. Only on the PD registration system, it says there is no stipend for the training. The first email that was sent out did not include an offer of a stipend. Apparently there was a second email that was sent out trying to entice teachers to attend with a $100 stipend but I never received that email nor did another other social studies teacher at my school.
  4. The district expects the tablet computers they purchased to have a life span of five years. Hah! Out of the 30 tablet computers I have been using in my classroom for the past three weeks, five of them had to be taken out of circulation because they are no longer functional.
  5. After a parent expressed concern about the ergonomics of students working on computers at school (I got news for you honey, there is nothing ergonomic about anything in the public school system), the Superintendent joked about his IPrep Academy students sitting around in bean bag chairs with their laptops. How’s that for ergonomics! Only there is nothing ergonomically correct about sitting in a bean bag chair. I happen to have this astute knowledge because one of my first professional jobs was working at a company that sold $5,000 designer ergonomically correct chairs to CEOs. Oh, to work in the private sector again with a comfy office chair! Of course teachers are not supposed to actually sit during the day, so the ten dollar plastic student chair should be just fine. My worst, and least ergonomically correct, school district chair experience had to have been when I was nine months pregnant and forced to sit in an elementary student’s tiny plastic chair for three hours during an afterschool no stipend paid gifted endorsement training. Now that, my friend, is a true Medieval torture session and a general reflection of how much school districts care about ergonomics. Heck, they don’t even care about fire codes as my colleague sitting next to me lamented about having 42 Honors English students in a classroom that was designed for 25 students because it was built after Florida voters passed the class size amendment (silly architects think that twice voter approved constitutional amendments actually mean something). I have a feeling there is no English class at any of the IPrep Academies with 42 students. It would be physically impossible to fit 42 desks and still have room for students to lounge around in bean bag chairs. Hey, now that Kafkateach has gone techie, maybe I can land one of those jobs! I did purchase a bean bag chair for my first classroom back when the district tried to strictly enforce “silent reading time.” Whatever happened to that initiative? I could use thirty minutes of silence during the day.

So that’s a summary of what I learned at the Town Hall Meeting last night. For those of you not in attendance, as is the case with most meetings, you didn’t miss much.

This week education in Florida made the national news! As a Florida resident, one becomes keenly aware that if we are in the national headlines, it’s because of the bizarro factor (Florida news stories usually involve a large reptile attacking someone, naked Zombie face eaters or an election fiasco). To be fair, the first national education news story was positive when the Lee County School Board (briefly) voted to Opt Out of State Standardized testing. That decision lasted all of one weekend, when the School Board decided to have a revote at 8:30 in the morning when they knew parents and teachers could not attend.

Hoping to capture some national attention as well, the Miami Herald finally published an article that did not glorify Miami Dade public schools but exposed one horrific testing schedule instead claiming, “Out of the 180-day academic year, Miami-Dade County schools will administer standardized tests on every day but eight.”

http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/09/01/4322452/in-miami-dade-schools-testing.html

To be fair, that is a little bit of an exaggeration, as Miami Dade Chief Academic Officer pointed out, “no single student sits for every exam listed. For example, a high school senior won’t take the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener, just as a kindergartener won’t take the Advanced Placement exams for college credit.” Thanks for that clarification. I guess statements like these are why district officials get paid the big bucks.

Never one to miss an opportunity to get his picture and name in the paper, our Superintendent captured the Zeitgeist of the anti-testing movement by publishing an opinion piece in the Miami Herald asking for common sense testing.

http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/09/02/4323758/carvalho-common-sense-on-student.html

Only like most politicians, he was for standardized testing before he was against it. Three years ago he was boasting about winning Races that tied teacher evaluations to student test scores and would ultimately require End of Course exams for every class in the state of Florida, primarily used to rank and rate teachers. Now that the proverbial poo-poo has hit the fan and the public is turning against this absurdity, our Superintendent has finally reversed course, “Tying inconclusive and statistically unreliable achievement data to teacher evaluation and performance pay scales based on learning gains or Value-Added Models, when those very same gains that are indispensable to the model are nonexistent, is questionable at best and unethical at worst.”

Kudos to you Mr. Superintendent for officially stating what most teachers in your district have been complaining about for the last three years. Maybe you always believed that VAM was a scam and you just wanted to get some Federal dollars for your school district. Now that the grant period is over and the district if facing wasting millions in creating and administering hundreds of new EOCs, you have finally seen the light and feel comfortable coming out of the VAM closet.

If any readers have the time, they can check out an Orange County powerpoint about Florida’s new accountability system

https://www.ocps.net/Documents/2014-15%20Documents/2014%20State%20Accountability%20Work%20Session.pdf.

Here is one of the hidden gems in case you’re too busy to read it:

“For all other statewide, national and state‐required, locally constructed assessments, the district must create methods for measuring student learning growth

  • There are over 1,000 courses that fall in these groups

It is important to note that the majority of teachers will receive their student learning growth entirely constructed by the district.”

One method districts are using to cut back on the number of new assessments they are being forced to create just so they can evaluate their teachers, is simply cutting back on the number of courses they offer. Great elective courses are being sliced from the curriculum just so districts will not have to create another test. In my county, the EOCs are still under construction so our evaluations will be tied to a test that we have no idea how to prepare for. Not to mention that districts are supposed to measuring learning gains for a test that students have never taken. As far as I am aware, there are no plans to administer a baseline assessment this year. What data are they going to use to measure growth?

Before I start losing anymore sleep over this nonsense, let us all hope that this all gets thrown out after the election this November. For too long, our state’s education policies have been guided by Jeb Bush’s self interests. Schools have become so obsessed over our state’s grading system that my daughter’s “A+” elementary school doesn’t even offer art or music classes.

In Texas, another state that has also been dominated by the Bush family testing industrial complex, the public is increasingly becoming fed up with the misuse and abuse of standardized testing. Walter Stroup, a TENURED Harvard educated professor at the University Texas, testified at the Texas Capitol that “The tests, simply couldn’t measure how much students had learned in school.”

 

Of course for classroom teachers, this was a matter of stating the obvious. But coming from a college professor who came armed with years of research, it carried more weight:

“Using UT’s computing power, Stroup investigated. He entered the state test scores for every child in Texas, and out came the same minor variances he had gotten in Dallas. What he noticed was that most students’ test scores remained the same no matter what grade the students were in, or what subject was being tested. According to Stroup’s initial calculations, that constancy accounted for about 72 percent of everyone’s test score. Regardless of a teacher’s experience or training, class size, or any other classroom-based factor Stroup could identify, student test scores changed within a relatively narrow window of about 10 to 15 percent.

Stroup knew from his experience teaching impoverished students in inner-city Boston, Mexico City and North Texas that students could improve their mastery of a subject by more than 15 percent in a school year, but the tests couldn’t measure that change. Stroup came to believe that the biggest portion of the test scores that hardly changed—that 72 percent—simply measured test-taking ability. For almost $100 million a year, Texas taxpayers were sold these tests as a gauge of whether schools are doing a good job. Lawmakers were using the wrong tool.

The paradox of Texas’ grand experiment with standardized testing is that the tests are working exactly as designed from a psychometric (the term for the science of testing) perspective, but their results don’t show what policymakers think they show. Stroup concluded that the tests were 72 percent “insensitive to instruction,” a graduate- school way of saying that the tests don’t measure what students learn in the classroom.”

http://www.texasobserver.org/walter-stroup-standardized-testing-pearson/

For his hard work, Stroup was rewarded with a “needs improvement” evaluation from the University of Texas College of Education (which happens to be funded by a generous grant from the Pearson Foundation). The reformers only value data if it can be used to punish teachers, students, and public schools. Data that actually exposes their fraud gets an automatic “unsatisfactory” rating.

Let me preface this letter by stating that I do not speak for all Florida teachers nor do I know what all Florida teachers want. I do, however, know what I would like to see from a candidate running for Governor who is going to need the teacher vote if he wants to win (and teachers, you actually need to vote).

 

Dear Charlie Christ,

Congratulations on winning the Democratic primary in the race for the Governor of Florida. Now that you’ve won, teachers are going to need to hear you speak on issues that are near and dear to their hearts. You’ve stood up for teachers in the past as a Republican Governor and we hope you will stand up for teachers even more so as a Democratic Governor. (By the way, I would stay away from affiliating yourself too much with President Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. They are not very popular among teachers these days.) Because you are not a public school teacher, you may be unaware of the plight of the Florida educator as experienced during the Reign of Rick Scott. Here’s a list of bad legislation passed in the last four years that teachers would like to see reversed.

 

  1. SB736, need I say more. I believe you are partially responsible as you initiated the state’s Race to the Top application. The grant period for Race to the Top is now over, so you should be able to reverse some of its ridiculous demands. Teachers should not be evaluated on the standardized test scores of their students. There is no fair way to do this. If you use pass rates, then teachers doing the hard work of teaching our most challenging populations will suffer. Judging teachers by growth rates (VAM) has proven to be statistically invalid and tends to penalize teachers who teach high achievers as well as special needs and English language learners.
  2. Amend the amendment to the class size amendment. All Florida teachers and students deserve a class size that is conducive to a productive learning environment. Advanced Placement teachers and students have especially suffered since their classes were declared “electives” and exempt from the 25 student cap. Advanced Placement teachers have seen their class size balloon to over 40 and their student load increase from 150 to 200 without any additional pay. Inclusion classrooms also tend to be over 40 students because technically there are two teachers assigned to the room. Many times the trained Special Education teacher is absent from the class due to IEP meetings and paperwork. This leaves a teacher with no special education training in a room with over 40 students, most of whom have special needs.
  3. Merit pay. Pitting teachers against each other for a few hundred dollars is no way to improve our schools. One known way to improve teacher quality is to share best practices and provide quality professional development. Teachers are not going to feel comfortable collaborating with their peers and sharing materials when they are being ranked against their colleagues in every possible way.
  4. Bring back continuing contract status for all Florida teachers. Teachers need to have some due process rights before they are fired or simply not rehired. Left to the whims of administrators, quality teachers can be let go just because of personality differences, nepotism, or because they stood up for their students when it may have conflicted with administrative decisions.

 

 

Thanks for listening Charlie! I hope you can speak out on some of these issues and give teachers a reason to go to the polls in November!

 

Sincerely,

A Concerned Florida Educator

 

 

***Please feel free to leave a comment below to add to the list of issues important to Florida teachers***

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