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***

As educators we may be reluctant to embrace the latest fad technology our districts seem quite happy to invest millions in while not bothering to invest any money in training their staff how to actually use it. I know you’re busy, you’re tired, you’re wary of wasting time learning one platform only to see it replaced by another shinier platform the following year. But believe me, it is worth devoting some extra time to learning the wonders of the digital classroom and here are the top ten reasons why:

1. If you go paperless, you will never have to be hit in the head with a crumpled up ball of paper some student accidently threw in your direction while trying to prove to the class he is the next Lebron James.
2. Your janitors will love you when they come to your classroom at the end of the day and it’s free of papers and books all over the floor.
3. Think of all the money you will save on pens and pencils! How many times has a kid asked you for a pencil or pen? They may not bring writing utensils to school but they certainly remember their smartphones.
4. You will never waste your time running to the copier in the teachers’ lounge only to find it’s jammed or has no toner and no one has bothered to fix it.
5. When your printer goes offline, you won’t have to wait three months for the tech guys downtown to fix it
6. Are the fumes from those stinky and expensive dry erase markers giving you a migraine? Go ahead and toss them in the trash.
7. Did your Smartboard bulb burn out and the school doesn’t have any money to replace it? Don’t worry, you can throw your Smartboard in the trash too but that would require heavy lifting.
8. Tired of giving a lecture and hearing students say “Wait, Wait, I’m not done copying yet.” Post in online and go ahead and talk as fast as you want.
9. Do you hate it when you play a video and the kids’ heads automatically fall to the desk or their pants light up from the glare of their smartphones? Stop wasting class time showing movies and make them watch them for homework instead. Quiz them on it the next day.
10. Embracing technology will make you work smarter, faster, cheaper and engage your learners who are too busy playing with their devices to listen to you anyway. If you can’t beat them, join them.

 This year our district is not only implementing a tablet program for 7th and 9th graders, we have also become a Bring Your Own Device district. The district has spent millions of dollars creating operable Wi-Fi networks for our schools. I give them great credit for the speed in which they have installed the necessary infrastructure required in making sure our schools are ready for the 21st Century. Unfortunately, even though our schools are ready for a one to one classroom, the tablets the district purchased are not. All I can say is, I hope they got a really great deal on those tablets! The tablets seem to have a bug when it comes to picking up Wi-Fi. I have great Wi-Fi at my house but I couldn’t pick up the Internet using my district provided tablet. When I went to my training, it took me over thirty minutes to pick up Wi-Fi on my tablet. The tech guys solution, “turn it on and off again” (funny how much these guys get paid to hit the on and off switch). In my classroom, I have never had more than 50 percent of my students be able to pick up the Wi-Fi at any one time. It is extremely difficult to try to teach a one to one lesson and go paperless when I’m dealing with a one to two (or three) ratio of students that have Internet access. This will create a nightmare scenario if we actually decide to use these tablets to administer state assessments.

So why do I believe it is a problem with the tablet and not a problem with the Wi-Fi servers? First, my students have no problem getting on the Internet when they are using their own devices. Second, well, the Internet told me so. I love Amazon.com! Not just because I don’t have to wait in line at the store and they deliver my goodies in two days, but for the consumer reviews. Hint, before you buy anything, read the reviews on Amazons. Not the 5 star reviews, the one star reviews. Because I don’t want to be sued for slander in case I am wrong about this, I am not going to reveal the brand and can’t provide you with a direct link, but here is part of the statement,

“it would not recognize wi-

  1. Spent over 2 hours on the phone with a very patient helpful tech support person. Finally resolved the problem after doing a reset. The reset lost many accessories/programs. Microsoft now wants to charge me to down load the programs I lost. Not happy with the product. “

A further Internet search reveals more problems with the tablet, “I’m having a problem connecting to my office wi-fi network. This is an open network – anyone can connect; I manage to connect with my Galaxy S2 smartphone without any problem. After the connection is established I get a “Limited connectivity” and no internet access. When I “repair” the network connection I get some more time connected and then it happens again.”

This is why I believe the problem is with the tablets themselves. Sure would have been nice if the district had done some consumer research before spending millions on a device that has problems picking up the Wi-Fi the district spent more millions on installing. I demand a refund!

Much to my surprise, I am loving the new technology and teaching in a one to one class. Though I may be in favor of bringing technology to the classroom, I am against the government corruption and ineptitude that seem to go along with it. So if you are a teacher or a learner in my district, all I can say for now is BYOD!

As much as I love the new technology and the experience of teaching in a one to one classroom, the end of my day usually puts me in a bad mood as I am faced with the task of trying to unravel 30 hanging dongles. I thought we were going wireless? Imagine 30 hanging cords dangling in 2 cubic square feet with barely any light and no organization. Was it too much to ask for the district to make sure the corporation distributing the carts neatly arranged all 30 dongles? Ain’t no teacher got time for that! (Oops, I used “ain’t.” I hope the My Big Campus Thought Police don’t come after me. They already flagged me for using the word “dongle” and that’s the dangling cord’s official name). I tried having the students be responsible for putting their tablets away but they didn’t put them in the right slots and didn’t insert their dongles properly so the following day the batteries weren’t charged. I’ve been spending at least 40 minutes extra after work dealing with all the dongles. Thank goodness we only have two more weeks of the cart!

As much fun as I am having teaching with the tablets, I have to admit I wanted to throw them out the window the first day (only my hurricane shutters got in the way and I’m on the first floor and I needed at least 20 feet to do some damage). If I am feeling this frustration and I am someone who actually got a little training and is embracing this technology, I can’t imagine what the average 9th grade Social Studies teacher is experiencing with these tablets. They probably haven’t even opened their carts and I can’t blame them because the lock on the carts is so darn complicated. Which brings me to my next point. Why invest in the technology and not invest in your staff if you actually expect people to use it? There is already plenty of resentment as teacher Facebook groups are filled with comments like “I’m not touching it until they train me how to use it. “ “What good is it if they block youtube?” In case you haven’t heard, the district now allows open access to youtube. It’s awesome! I can insert any link to a video to my My Big Campus classes and they can watch it at home for homework and I can quiz them on it the next day. You can hold online discussions and keep track of which students participated and the quality of their answers and give them grades based on the discussion. I love it! (In case you don’t know how to get into My Big Campus, just log into the district portal, click on the applications tab as if you are going to the gradebook and click on My Big Campus. Bam, you’re in and you can find your classes under groups. )

Unfortunately the district did not invest in training their staff and most teachers will probably just let their carts collect dust and their students’ tablets collect Cheeto crumbs in their backpacks. What a waste! You would think they would have learned from the Los Angeles School District’s disastrous Ipad rollout (hey, how come they got Ipads and we got the HP tablet? It’s like the orthopedic shoe of tablets-ugly but functional) <a href="http://articles.dailypilot.com/2013-10-04/opinion/tn-dpt-me-
/>1006-apodaca-20131004_1_ipad-high-school-students-local-schools/2″>http://articles.dailypilot.com/2013-10-04/opinion/tn-dpt-me-1006-apodaca-20131004_1_ipad-high-school-students-local-schools/2 . Hoboken NJ had similar issues and now their tablets are sitting in a storage room until they can find someone to pay to take them away http://www.wnyc.org/story/why-hoboken-throwing-away-all-its-student-laptops/.

Contrast these scenarios with Mooresville, NC where they invest in summer trainings for their teachers and believe the person behind the fancy box is more important than the box itself. I really like what their Chief Technology Officer had to say, “The point is not the box,” Scott Smith, the Mooresville district’s chief technology officer, said Tuesday, referring to the laptops and iPads. “The point is changing the teachers and the learning environment and doing what’s best for kids.” http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/07/22/5060274/ushering-in-the-digital-classroom.html#.U_WPxzmjTww

So if the district really wants this tech initiative to be successful and is not just out for a photo op, they need to first and foremost do what’s best for kids, invest in summer training for their teachers, and hopefully purchase laptops in the next go round so I never have to see another dongle.

.

Dear Mr. Gates,

I would like to propose the following challenge to Mr.Bill Gates in order to test the sincerity of his motives in transforming the American education system for the benefit of all students and his interest in closing the achievement gap. Mr. Gates, if you are sincere in your motives please donate a tablet (or I would prefer one of those cool new laptops that have touchscreen and app capabilities. They cost less than five hundred and we don’t have to worry about losing keyboards) to every child in my school district. Surely the richest man in the world who is so passionate about reforming education for the benefit of the students and not lining his own pockets could afford such a thing. I know you like to use our schools, our children, our facilities, our teachers and our unions as guinea pigs for your education reform experiments. I have criticized most of your experiments and, let’s be honest, most of them have been failures. I am now directly one of your guinea pigs as I am responsible for helping implement my school district’s one to one device initiative this year for 9th grade Social Studies students. I have finally seen the light and I have now come around to your way of thinking. The technology has finally been synchronized to a level where wireless devices can save the district money and hopefully they can find more funds in their operating budget to invest in their staff.

Through tablet devices, wireless connectivity and cloud storage we can save the district millions of dollars on paper, scantrons, toner and textbooks. You want all of that testing? OK. Just engage teachers in designing age appropriate curriculum since they are the experts. I see how testing through wireless devices can help solve almost everything we hate about testing. The constant disruptions and logistical nightmares of testing could be ended once the students start taking these tests on their wireless devices. Just, please, don’t make these tests the main factor in my job evaluation. As we’ve seen through the disaster of value added models, there is no fair way to evaluate teachers on test scores. As a numbers man, you should appreciate the statistical flaws of such a system.

The latest buzz word in our district is “collaboration.” I am a firm believer in collaboration. Surely a man of your intelligence can understand that if you are ranking teachers based on test results it is very hard for them to collaborate with each other in order to raise the test scores of all students and help close the achievement gap. So please let us all collaborate in order to save our public schools from the edge of the performance cliff that you keep saying they are on. Please, let the teachers, the parents, the administrators, the unions, the school superintendents and private enterprise all work together to improve public schools and the teaching profession. Together we can solve our nation’s education crisis by investing in traditional public schools.

By the way Mr. Gates, I feel your pain. I think I can understand why you dropped out of Harvard. Why you seem to have a strong disdain for teachers. You were probably that introverted kid sitting in the back who was always the smartest person in the room and bored out of your mind listening to your teachers and professors drone on and on. I love how these tablet devices can engage all types of learners, empower our students and teachers, and transform the learning experience to one of equity. Where all learners feel that they have something to contribute. This is why I love the Internet Age. The gods of the Digital Revolution: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Marc Zuckerburg share certainly qualities. You may not have the best interpersonal skills, you are probably independent and a non-conformist who could give two cents what anyone else thinks about you. Maybe you ruffled a few feathers along the way. You are probably obsessive, passionate and strategic. Believe it or not, Mr. Gates, some teachers share those qualities too. So please Mr. Gates, if you are sincere in your passion to transform the American education system for the benefit of all students, meet my challenge and donate a wireless device to every student in my school district.

Sincerely,

Kafkateach

Kafkateach is proud to declare that after devoting much of this blog to complaining about how terrible the union is, she has finally decided to join it. This blog is all about absurdity anyway, so it’s fitting in a way. After briefly working in a state with no union, I’ve come to the conclusion that some union is better than no union. I may change my mind about this, and if I do my readers will be the first to know. So what series of events landed Kafkateach in the union for the first time in her career?
I’m not sure where to begin. I just wanted to go back to my classroom and shut the door and my mouth and be the best teacher I could be.
Then I got my schedule and it was very clear that someone had decided to use my maternity leave as an opportunity for demotion. This would seem to violate the Family Leave and Medical Act http://www.fmlainsights.com/employer-burned-for-failing-to-return-employee-to-equivalent-position-after-fmla-ended/
but since I was gone for so long I’m not sure that this law would apply to my situation and I have no interest in suing anyway. After all this is over, I am hoping to be able to write a book called “How to Turn Your Demotion into a Promotion.”

Through a series of factors that seemed more controlled by the universe than myself, I ended up in some sort of tech guru position at my school by default. If you read this blog, that should strike you as hysterical because I’ve certainly never bothered to devote any time making it look good. All I can say to teachers in my county, is that this is a blessing for us all. The district’s latest tech initiatives are actually very empowering to teachers. Please pay attention to and use the new district application “My Big Campus.” It offers all of the social networking that we love about Facebook and gives us unprecedented ways to organize. Of course “My Big Campus” is monitored by the Thought Police but as long as we remain professional I think we’ll be fine. The Thought Police are mostly looking for students bullying other students, cheating, and using curse laden acronyms like WTF and LMFAO. There is even a blog feature on your teacher profile. Hmm…that could get interesting.

Unfortunately, nothing is ever easy for Kafkateach and I had to go into combat mode much sooner than I would have liked as the old guard of teacher leaders (who were the same teachers in place under the previous administration) did not want to see Kafkateach in a teacher leader role. To make matters worse and to make the District’s launch of their device program even more absurd, the Administrators have no idea what I am talking about. They have never received the very abrupt training I received, played around with the tablet and they don’t even have access to My Big Campus. So I sound like a crazy person trying to get the staff trained for a successful tablet launch by Monday when the Superintendent does his victory tour. In the next few weeks, I think the staff will come around to my way of thinking, but for now since I am the only person with this information I probably seem a little nutty.

Speaking of staff, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge our school janitors and security guards. The warmest and most authentic “Welcome Backs” I received, were from the janitors and security guards. The janitor in my wing gave me the warmest hug I’ve had in a long time. She must be approaching 60 and she brings her granddaughter around to help her. For her efforts to keep our hallways clean and safe she was called a “puta” by a student that she kicked out of our wing. School janitors, I salute you! You are just as much an integral part of our school community as the teachers and administrators. Thank you for your hard and unappreciated work (hmm…maybe that’s why janitors and I get along so well). And if there are any janitors who read my blog, your job is about to get easier! If we do go paperless and bookless, you will have a lot less mess to clean!

Anyway, back to why I joined the union. This year is a very important election year in Florida and New York. I feel like the more teachers we have in the union during the election, the better organized we can be through social media, the better our chances will be for ending the reign of Rick Scott. I’m starting to see some changes in the tone of union leadership that I am very pleased with. The new NEA president, Lily Garcia, openly condemns corporate education reforms and she doesn’t seem to be looking for a seat at the table http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/08/11/new-nea-leader-to-nations-educators-revolt-ignore-stupid-reforms/
In more promising news that teachers and their unions are finally starting to wake up and organize, in NY State the teachers’ union refused to endorse Democrat Cuomo for re-election http://dianeravitch.net/2014/08/14/public-employees-federation-endorses-teachout/.
These are all very positive signs that teachers and their unions are finally starting to resist profit driven reforms so I’m willing to give the union a shot. My motto this year is, “Working within systems to change systems.”

There is not much Kafkateach can tell you for sure about how our county’s tablet device pilot program will be rolled out this fall. But here’s what I do know after a day of training:
1. The techy-nerdmen who designed this device never taught a class full of ninth grade boys. One of the accessories to the device our students will be receiving is actually called a “dongle.” Do they have any idea what is going to happen every time a teacher has to tell the class to “get out their dongles” or “put away their dongles”? I will probably try to avoid using the thing just to avoid the inevitable adolescent humor regarding their “dongles,” or God forbid one of them actually tries to unzip their pants!
2. Bill Gates is making bank. While I am very excited about being lucky enough to teach in a one to one classroom, we didn’t need any of the Microsoft software to make this work. Everything was already available for free on the Internet. Google Docs and Google Drive could have easily been used instead of Microsoft OneNote and OneDrive. Edmodo and Snapshot serves the same purpose as My Big Campus and ThinkGATE.
3. As stated in my last post, not investing in training the teachers who are on the front lines of implementing the one to one program was a major misstep. The district sent out an email at the end of the school year regarding trainings with names that probably seemed encrypted to the average teacher. There was no stipend for attending the trainings, so not surprisingly, nobody registered and the scheduled sessions were cancelled. There are about 700 7th and 9th grade Social Studies teachers in the county. If they offered to pay each teacher their daily rate (around $200), most of the teachers would have attended and it would have only cost the district around $140,000. A paltry sum compared to how much they invested in these devices and chump change compared to the district’s total operating budget.
4. If you are a 7th or 9th grade Social Studies teacher, you and your students better use the devices from day one. We were warned at today’s training that the Superintendent will be visiting classrooms on the first day of school and he will expect to see the devices out and the students engaged in digital instruction. The fact that only 20 Social Studies teachers in the county have received any instruction on these devices so far and many teachers may not even see one of these devices until the first day of school at 7 am does not excuse you from incorporating these devices in your lesson. Figure out how to turn it on and at least get to the online textbook. You will look “innovative” even though you have no idea what you are doing.
5. Expect glitches. Tons of them. The Internet was down most of the day during our training. With every 7th and 9th grader in the county trying to login at the same time, expect the server to crash. Have a backup plan.
6. Embrace technology in the classroom even if the actual tablet will be outdated by January and replaced by something newer and shinier. The one to one instructional techniques you develop should be able to be used on whatever future device the district decides to purchase. Most of your lessons will be stored on the Cloud. The future is one to one instruction. It’s going to be a rough ride in the beginning, but the tech boat has sailed and if you don’t hop aboard you are going to be left behind. At some point it will make our lives easier, increase student engagement, and save tons of paper.
7. The one to one initiative could help bridge the digital divide. The training I attended was in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States. The fact that these kids will have access to the same technology as the wealthiest students in our district really is “innovative” and hopefully transformational. Even though our cynical teacher side may poo-poo the millions wasted on techie devices that will inevitably be lost, stolen or damaged, let’s all try to recapture the optimistic dreamer side we had when we first started this profession. We can change lives, ourselves, and the very nature of instruction.

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