weapons of mass distraction

For the past few years, we have been bombarded with articles from innovative educators and watched inspirational speeches from tech titans who have promised to transform education with Wi-Fi, one to one devices, and engaging software applications. Teachers have had to sit through hours of professional development learning whatever their districts have deemed the latest and greatest tech tools in the classroom. Many teachers have bought into the hype and invested countless hours creating tech savvy lessons only to find that their customers haven’t bought into the panacea of technology in the classroom. Many of our students are not impressed by the glaring screens and their digitized education. They long for a return to books with pages to flip through instead of waiting for a screen to load. For the generation of digital natives, holding a pen and putting it to paper may offer a transformative experience or at least a momentary break from eye strain. Have we driven our students to the brink of an educational abyss by providing a classroom experience filled with constant distraction?

Many educators and experts are now speaking out about the dangers of technology in the classroom and are arguing in favor of limiting screen time. http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2017/03/21/a-call-for-fewer-screens-in-the.html?cmp=eml-enl-tu-news1-RM&intc=es  Speaking from personal experience, initially I embraced the new technologies but after a few years in a digital classroom, I find myself throwing out some of my tech tools and returning to paper and pen. After spending hours making Kahoots to try to make my lessons more engaging and fun, I’ve given up on using them as students have flipped my classroom and turned Kahoot into a tool for disengagement. The most fun they have playing Kahoot is devising funny but mostly obscene screen names. When the game is played, only the most competitive students stay in until the end and most freshmen boys can’t resist reaching over and choosing the wrong answers on their friends’ devices. Some teachers require students to use their real name and they count the Kahoot as a grade, but then you’ve turned what was supposed to be a game into an online assessment with a dose of public humiliation as students’ names and their scores are displayed on the screen.

Students equipped with devices have made me literally flip my classroom. I had to move my teacher desk to the back of the classroom so I can monitor what is on my students’ laptop screens in order to maintain their focus and prevent cheating. At any given moment, I will catch a few students online shopping, instant messaging, playing video games, or watching irrelevant youtube videos. Check out this photograph of what students were actually doing on their devices while their teacher lectured at the front of the classroom.

technology distraction

A quick glance will show that less than 50% of students are actually paying attention and are using their devices to appropriately follow the lesson. It takes a highly motivated student with incredible self control to use a laptop in the classroom and remain completely focused on the lesson. Keep in mind that this photo appears to be taken in a college setting where students are attending class of their own free will and not in your typical public high school classroom where the issue of tech distraction is actually much worse.

Having used technology in the classroom in both regular and Advanced Placement classrooms, I can tell you that technology in the classroom is much more effective when used with motivated student populations equipped with laptops rather than students who are already looking for any escape from the drudgery of academics who spend the day either hunched over a district issued tablet or trying to use their cellphone for educational purposes. At first I embraced my district’s one to one device initiative because the digital divide is a huge problem in our society, but unfortunately technology in the classroom has only manifested that digital divide in new ways. I can walk into any classroom at my school and immediately tell you whether it’s an AP classroom or regular classroom without even looking at the demographics. I just need to look at the screens in the room. If I see a room filled with Macbook Airs, it’s automatically an IB or AP classroom. If I see a room filled with students hunched over tiny cell phone screens, clunky district issued tablets, or staring blankly because they either don’t have a device, didn’t bring a device or their device is not charged, it screams regular classroom. What type of device a student brings to school has also become a status symbol. If a student wants to appear cool and wealthy, they must have a Macbook Air. The students forced to use the district tablet with its dangling keyboard and unattractive government issued protective black case often feel self-conscience because it immediately labels them as poor.

Unfortunately, technology has left teachers and students at the mercy of functioning Wi-Fi and the success of a lesson is now dependent on a student being responsible enough to bring a charged device to the classroom. This becomes even more problematic for teachers and students at the end of the school day when most students’ devices and even the teachers’ classroom set (if they are lucky enough to have one) may have lost their charge. I was unfortunate enough to have my annual observation occur at 2:00 in the afternoon with my regular level students. On any given day, out of a class of 30 students, only about five students come prepared with a charged tablet or lab top. I only have five tablets as a class set and by the end of the day most of those have lost their charge. That leaves 20 students with no way to participate in the lesson unless I allow them to use their cell phones. I gave away my class set of textbooks to another teacher because he had large inclusion classrooms and I new he really needed textbooks for those kids. So during the twenty minute span when an administrator actually sat through my lesson, half of my class was relying on using their cellphones which meant their heads were down focusing on the device between their legs which they were actually using to play video games with. One bright student who’s lab top recently broke and who’s cell phone had run out of charge chose to spend the last ten minutes of class spraying Listerine in his eyes as a form of entertainment. Since my student’s lab top has been out of service, his grade in my class has gone from a B to a D and instead of being on task he is constantly goofing off on his phone. I was so humiliated by this experience that the next day I marched my students who did not bring a proper device to a teachers’ room across the school to borrow a set of actual textbooks for an hour. Something magical happened, my D students actually opened their books, put pen to paper, were quiet, focused and received a good grade at the end of class!

The Ed Tech experts talk a lot about “disrupting” the classroom by allowing students to use their cell phones in class instead of banning them. They have obviously never actually taught a lesson in a public high school with students using nothing but cell phones. They would soon realize that the idea that students would actually use their phones to follow a lesson rather than a means of distraction is an epic fail. There is no greater way to “disrupt” the classroom than allowing students to use cell phones. Even lap tops are no guarantee that our students will be fully engaged in a lesson.  For a generation of students raised on devices, I am convinced that when they are faced with the glare of the screens, a cognitive change takes place and what I like to call “their idiot brain” turns on. When I was growing up, if you were to sit down in front of a computer, it meant it was time to get to work. But for my students, when they see a computer screen, their brains have been trained to think it is time to be mindlessly entertained. When I really want my students to focus on a complicated task, I find myself telling them to put their devices away and I break out paper copies and force them to do their assignment on paper. I am considering putting up a poster like this teacher in my classroom so my students know the appropriate time to have their devices out and when to put them away.

technology today

Technology has certainly transformed the classroom, but it may not necessarily have been for the better. There are some digital applications that have helped me organize information for my course and for my students like Schoology and OneNote that I don’t plan on abandoning any time soon. Those applications have been life savers and will remain mainstays in my classroom. But for now, I am not interested in embracing the latest tech app in my instruction. I am more interested in finding innovative ways to fully engage my students in a distraction free classroom that functions with or without a Wi-Fi connection or a charged device. I want one hundred percent of my students’ attention, I want them to be able to focus on one task at one time, I want to see their faces and not the tops of their heads, I want them to look into the eyes of their peers, I want them to converse, I want them to experience the way I experienced school and the funny thing is, I think that is what my students want too.

 

 

money

They will call it a “bonus”, “merit pay”, an “incentive”, they will even call it a “scholarship.” They will call it almost anything, anything but a “raise.” Does the Florida Legislature have an unwritten ban on the word “raise” when it comes to the states teachers? We have long given up on ever hearing the phrase “Cost of Living Adjustment” again in our lifetimes, but whatever happened to a good old fashioned raise? You know, a reliable salary increase that can’t be erased with the swipe of a legislative pen? It’s equitable, it’s eternal, it’s what teachers want.

After what seemed like a hopeful start to the 2017 legislative session, all mention of the word “raise” has disappeared and been replaced by expanded versions of the states much maligned “Best and Brightest” bonus. http://www.naplesnews.com/story/news/politics/2017/03/15/floria-house-senate-shape-teacher-pay-proposals/99121042/

The  Best and Brightest bonus has already gone from the advertised $10,000 to the received $8,000 in 2016 to the shrunken $6,000 in 2017. Even teachers who receive the bonus are disgusted and insulted by its very premise. After two years of ridicule and criticism over the Best and Brightest bonus, what does the Florida legislature want to do? They want to expand it to include teachers with a college GPA over a 3.0 (which would probably be 90% of teachers) and they even want to let principals apply for the bonus. Is there a principal shortage I am unaware of? Are principal six figure salaries woefully inadequate? To make matters worse, they want principals to qualify based on the ratio of Best and Brightest teachers at their school. Will principals start passing out highly effective evaluations to staff like candy on Halloween? Will they only give highly effective evaluations to the smartest staff members with high test scores and GPAs? Will future hires be forced to bring their SAT scores and college transcripts to interviews?

Are we returning to a time of Social Darwinism when only the “brightest” teachers are deemed worthy of substantial monetary compensation, while the lesser academically gifted teachers but equally hard working are destined to make perpetually less than their brainier counterparts? Will teachers who work with the most challenging populations or teach the most challenging courses never see a “bonus” because their students’ test scores relegate them to chronically “effective” status? Next year will they start measuring teachers’ skulls and only teachers with a brain capacity in the top 20th percentile receive a bonus while teachers with little brains receive no figgy pudding at all?

Here’s a suggestion dear Florida Legislature, if you really can’t stomach the thought of giving all public school teachers a “raise” perhaps you can give us all an automatic  “salary boost” by eliminating the 3% FRS contribution that was imposed years ago? It’s equitable, it’s eternal, and it’s not a “raise.”

Test buster

I had heard of testing pep rallies but I never expected my own child to be attending one, let alone performing in one. I received an email from my child’s teacher about helping my child practice for their big performance in the school’s FSA pep rally. This is in addition to the 5 page nightly “real” homework packets, an additional 5 page nightly “fake” homework test prep packet, and the expectation that my child spend another 30 minutes on I-ready math and reading practice every night. My child is in the ever important and no fun at all third grade. The email was quickly deleted and forgotten by me until afterwork my child pulled me into the family room to perform a song that I would surely love. What followed next was bizarrely cute and horrifying at the same time. Sort of like when my 7 year old son ran into my room the other day and exclaimed, “Mommy, look how big my weaner gets!”

My child continued to enthusiastically perform the following Test Prep Song.

What Does the Test Say? (To the tune of “What does the Fox Say)

“Bell Goes Ring–Books Removed–Student Goes Think–And Teacher Goes Prove!

Together we can succeed at everything

Use their skills, get better grades

And the parent goes wow, wow, wow!!!

What does the test say????

Read, Read, Read, Read, rrrrrrrRead!…..!!!!

What does the test say?

Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass….pass the test. Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass the test

What does the test say?

Bubble, bubble, bubble, bo……bubble, bubble, bubble, bo…bubble, bubble

What does the test say?

Prove, prove, prove, prove. PPPPP, prove, prove prove

What does the test say????

Slept all night, Woke Refreshed, Breakfast Gone Down the Hatch

Studied hard. Homework done

Now’s the time to Ace this One!

Focus in and Take My Time

Add, subtract and multiply

But if a snack is what I need—-Reachin’ in my desk for

Cheeze-its, Chee-ee-ee-eeze its

Time to pass this test with eeeease, eeeease, eeeeeeeease!!!!!!!

What does the Test say?

Get your number 2 pencils out, your number 2 pencils out, get your number 2 pencils out

What does the test say?

Reading, Science, Math, Essay, Reading, Science, Math Essay

What does the test say?

Dream Believe Achieve, Dream Believe Achieve!!!!!

WHAT DOES THE TEST SAY???????

I tried to hide the horrified look on my face and muster a “That’s great honey,” but on the inside I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Maybe I wouldn’t have minded it so much if my child had come home earlier in the year and performed a Halloween song or a Thanksgiving play as well, but the only time I have seen my child rehearse for any performance all year was for the big Test Pep Rally. Maybe I’m just biased because as a high school teacher I hate pep rallies. The last thing I need at the end of the day is to be stuck in a smelly gym with 3,000 students yelling, screaming, throwing blown up condom balloons  and having the tuba player blast in my ear. I suppose if my child was having fun singing and dancing I shouldn’t be bothered by it. It was just a harmless song after all. Or was it an indoctrination into what becomes an annual ritual and spring time rite of passage of bubble tests and stress? I longed for the earlier preschool days of innocence and simple pleasures, when the only bubbles my child knew were translucent delights that floated through the air until they burst.

must watch

In the spirit of Daylight’s Savings Time, let me save the hardworking teachers of Dade County two minutes of their life by breaking down the UTD MUST WATCH (literally) video that was sent out to 20,000 district employees this morning. Here is the link to the video in case you automatically deleted the email containing the caps lock MUST WATCH video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOQgsbK4a3s&feature=youtu.be. Despite sending this email out to 20,000 teachers with MUST WATCH  in all caps in the subject line, by 4:30 pm, the video had only 62 views on youtube. This makes Kafkateach feel a hell of a lot better about the number of hits the average blog posts gets on this site. In the spirit of testing season, here is a multiple choice question about the cause of such pathetic viewing numbers for UTD’s video.

Question: Teachers in Dade County most likely did not view UTD’s MUST WATCH video for the following the reason(s):

A.Most teachers never read their email (especially on Daylight Savings Monday).

B.Most teachers hit auto delete to any UTD email (especially on Daylight Savings Monday).

C.Most teachers either did not have time to read their email or watch a video (especially on Daylight Savings Monday).

D.Most teachers are either too lazy, too technologically inept, or too apathetic to click on a MUST WATCH video link in an email (especially on Daylight Savings Monday).

E. All of the above.

Sadly, UTD’s answer choice would probably be D. UTD likes to blame their impotence on teacher apathy (and they may have a point). However, I have heard too many stories about union members’ activism being squashed by union leadership to place all of the blame on teacher apathy. Since most teachers were apparently too busy trying to readjust their internal clocks to the blasphemous creation known as Daylight Savings Time, in the spirit of the Trump administration’s deconstruction era, allow me to deconstruct UTD’s main points presented in the MUST WATCH video.

The most painful part about this video is that you actually must watch it. There is no audio at all for the first minute and a half. At first I adjusted the volume on my computer thinking I must be having technical difficulties. It took me a second to realize the lack of audio was symbolic of the lack of voice you will have if House Bill 11 passes. As if the lack of volume wasn’t symbolism enough, at the end of the video the camera pans up to UTD President Karla Matz with blue duct tape across her mouth. That image alone was worth watching the video until the end. But let’s be honest, does Karla Matz really need duct tape across her mouth to get her to not say anything? Of course, the main message behind the video is that if House Bill 11 passes we will no longer have UTD and we will no longer have a voice. Here are some of the other things UTD claims we will not have without a union:

#1. A 30 minute duty free lunch. Technically, we are entitled to a 30 minute duty free lunch thanks to our contract. But how many teachers actually enjoy a 30 minute duty free lunch? Most teachers spend their lunch checking their email, calling parents, meeting with parents, dealing with the line of students outside their door crying about their grades, holding club meetings, grading papers, lesson planning…etc.

#2. A 7 hour and 20 minute work day. Once again, technically teachers only have to be at their work site for 7 hours and 20 minutes but most teachers probably put in an extra 1-2 hours off the clock in order to complete the demands of the job.

#3. No leave of absence. Yes, we can take a leave of absence, but it is unpaid. I went on maternity leave three times without receiving a dime of paid time off that wasn’t accrued sick leave. That’s really not that impressive if you compare some of the maternity perks union free corporations offer their employees. I kid you not, I heard about a company that gives their employees paid “Pupternity Leave.” A full week’s pay for getting a new puppy! http://mashable.com/2017/02/17/brewery-offers-puppy-paternity/#

#4.Unlimited Back to School Night Activities. I do not contest this assertion. After briefly working in North Carolina, I can attest to the fact that they can make you attend multiple Back to School nights without a union.

#5. No Pay Increases. This one to me is laughable. I’ve spent many years not getting a pay increase working for Dade with UTD at the helm. Sometimes it was blamed on the Great Recession but other times my $150 raise was directly because of UTD’s wonky step schedule. The district didn’t design the step schedule, the union did. The district hands over the same pot of money to the union to distribute and it was because of UTD’s ridiculous salary schedule that I earned $150 step increases for the first decade of my career. I would have been much better off with a standard across the board 2.8% raise.

#6. No Supplement for Extra Duties. This is also laughable. The lack of enforcement of the class size amendment and the 8 period schedule has given me 1-2 extra classes worth of students without any extra pay. At one point, I could earn a supplement and only teach 150 students. Now, with no class size enforcement and the 8 period schedule, I have to teach anywhere from 180 to 210 students to get paid an extra 1/8 of my salary supplement instead of 1/6.

The next slide says “Without UTD, management could change or revoke all of these items just because they can.” Hmm…or maybe they could go through the union to revoke the grandfathered step schedule or have teachers agree to teach an extra load of students for free?

The last slide says in all caps: DON’T LET THEM SILENCE OUR VOICE!

What voice? When does UTD really ever speak up for teachers? Personally, I find the FEA and UTD a bit of an anachronism and dated. I’m not against unions, but the teachers’ unions need to modernize and downsize. Teachers can indeed have a voice without a union.  Just look at the story about the Philadelphia teacher who crowd funded $5,000 to put up a billboard to shame his school district using Go Fund Me https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/pennsylvania/articles/2017-03-02/philadelphia-teacher-puts-up-billboard-criticizing-district

When was the last time UTD used membership dues to shame the school district? They are quite happy to spend union dues promoting themselves by putting their image on the back of a bus (the only thing worse than being stuck behind a bus on Biscayne Boulevard is being stuck behind a bus with UTD leadership smiling at you) but nothing to expose the issues faced by teachers in Dade County schools.

As  Nitothe Blue, one of my readers who I would love to know who you really are or what the heck a Nitothe Blue is, stated on Facebook the other day, “UTD has proven themselves useless. There is nothing else the MDCPS can take from us teachers. Honestly, the state won. The district won. I’m a 16 year teacher making 45.8k with 2.8% raises a year. They won.”

Many teachers may feel the same despite UTD’S MUST WATCH (literally) video. They won. Why even bother clicking the link?

nuns

I recently read an article online titled, “Teaching isn’t a calling. It’s a job.” https://medium.com/@jonparker_48980/teaching-isnt-a-calling-it-s-a-job-792d49b27045#.8qlhxdd04

It was a refreshing article that gave teachers the permission to have a life outside of school hours, permission to prioritize something other than their students, permission to not spend every spare dime on buying classroom materials or clothing and food for poor students, permission to expect to get paid. Whenever I hear the word “calling,” I think of nuns. This got me thinking about how nuns and teachers are similar, and how they aren’t. Interestingly enough, one of the first major comparisons between teachers and nuns is their salary.

1.Salary. The salary range for nuns in Florida ranges from the mid-30s to a max of $70,000 with most nuns earning an average of $45,000 a year. Sound familiar? Only there’s one big difference: nuns will never have children! Which brings me to similarity number 2.

2.Reproduction. Although nuns are clearly not allowed to reproduce once they have entered the profession, it is not encouraged or expected for teachers to reproduce either. A starting salary to a young unmarried graduate of $40,000 a year doesn’t seem terrible. A single person can manage to sustain life on that figure. However, they will quickly find out from their coworkers that fifteen years into the profession they will only be making $5,000 more and their monthly expenses will skyrocket if they make the mistake of reproducing. Not only is it not advisable for teachers to reproduce for financial reasons, but their careers and mental health are also likely to suffer as a result reproduction. It was one thing to put up with the chaos of the classroom when you could come home after work and take a nice long nap or maybe stay late at school to lesson plan or grade papers, but once you have kids of your own, after a day in the classroom you will have little patience for your own children and have no time for the extra demands of the job when you are too busy picking kids up from school, cooking dinner, cleaning up from dinner, and god forbid, helping your own kids with their homework or reading your own kids a book! Not to mention, you will probably not be able to afford a large enough abode for yourself and your brood unless you marry well or have a trust fund. Which brings me to similarity, number 3, both teachers and nuns are expected to live in small places.

3. Lodging. Apparently, teachers’ lodging expectations should fall in line with those of nuns and convicted felons. An article recently ran in Education Week about a fancy Colorado ski resort town that plans to “recruit and retain” teachers by building tiny 400 sq. ft. houses http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/03/01/colo-district-mulls-building-tiny-houses-for.html. The 1% percenters can spend all day skiing the slopes and retire to their luxurious mountain lodges while after spending all day educating the next generation teachers get to retreat to homes that are smaller than the closets of the town’s wealthier denizens. I’m pretty sure the same rich people also have dog houses that are nicer than the homes the town of Eagle,Colorado wants to build for teachers. If you are ever lucky enough to go on a “business” trip as a teacher, expect to share a Motel 8 room with another teacher or, even worse, your principal. If the conference takes place at university, you will get to share a dorm room with a total stranger and sleep on the world’s hardest and smallest twin size mattress. Compare that to my husband’s business trips where he gets treated to a king size suite in a five star hotel. Is there any other profession in which an adult would be expected to share a hotel room, let alone a dorm room with a total stranger? As a teacher, you can expect to forever be treated like a student. You will also spend most of your days surrounded by no one but students. Which brings me to teacher/ nun similarity number 4, cloistering.

4. Cloistering. Nuns are expected to spend their days cloistered with other nuns isolated from society. Teachers will also find themselves cloistered in their classrooms with their students for 7 hours a day. A few times a month you might come out of your abbey to attend a faculty meeting in which case you will be surrounded by other teachers and decide you prefer the company of your students instead. Because teachers spend all of their time around “children” they are expected, like nuns, to be free of sin and vice, never drink, never curse and dress modestly. Which brings me to the last similarity between teachers and nuns, neither one are expected to have a life.

5.Sainthood. Of course the nun who has taken a vow to marry God will have to dress modestly and abstain from having a good time, but why should teachers be held to the same standard? How many stories do we have to hear about teachers being fired because they cursed on Facebook, posted pictures of drinking beer while they were at Oktoberfest in Germany, or had a friend post a bikini shot of them while on vacation? These are normal adult activities and teachers should be allowed to have a life outside of their classrooms that may or may not include a little sin. When a 26 year old elementary teacher got busted for drunk driving in South Florida, it was on every news channel like she had just committed mass murder. How many other 26 year olds in South Florida have been guilty of a DUI? But this poor woman has to receive a public stoning in the media just because she’s an elementary school teacher? God forbid you happen to be a curvy female teacher because you will also make national news headlines for wearing a dress if is anything more form fitting than a mu-mu https://blackamericaweb.com/2016/09/15/sexy-teacher-not-quite-a-teacher-reprimanded-about-attire-and-social-media/.  I wear dresses like this to work all of the time. Good thing my back side is smaller and I don’t post selfies on Instagram or I might have CNN come knocking on my classroom door! The public may think of students as little virginal angels but classroom teachers know that the little darlings are far from innocent. Which brings me to the differences between teachers and nuns.

Difference #1. Nuns will never be subjected to the constant cursing and vile secondary conversations that take place in schools. The other afternoon while crossing the courtyard to get to my car, I was assaulted by a cacophony of curse words. I heard more four letter words than pronouns and verbs. Even at my worst moments, I don’t think I can manage to string together more than two curse words at a time. These kids can string together 5-8 curse words with a simple greeting, “Yo, b***h a$$ mother-f***er G-Damn b**tard, what up?” The constant cursing is one of the unpleasantries of the job, but even worse are the side conversations about teenage sexual conquests. Today I overheard one fourteen year old lothario bragging about his weekend escapade to a group of other boys. A nerdier boy who had yet to undergo puberty, questioned him “So what does the inside of a vagina feel like?” I quickly cut off the conversation before I had to hear the boy’s answer. I guarantee no nun has ever had their ears tainted by adolescent X-rated locker room talk while at work.

Difference #2. Nuns spend their days in peace and quiet with prayer and meditation.  I’m sure we’ve all said a few prayers to try and get through the day, but peace? quiet? meditation? Umm…teachers…not so much.

Difference #3. If a nun councils a member of the church, and said member goes out and commits a sin anyway, that nun shall not be blamed. Teachers can perform their jobs to the full extent, but when students who don’t listen or do any work fail the test at the end of the year, the teacher receives all of the blame.

Difference #4. Nuns are respected and get to slam rulers on the desks. Teachers are called the B word, have crushed up balls of paper thrown at their heads, and must refrain from any moments of anger.

Difference #5. Nuns received a calling, most teachers did not. I for one never received a “calling” to become a teacher. I received a bachelor’s degree and after a few temp jobs thought to myself, what am I going to do with this useless Anthropology degree from a prestigious university? Let me try this teaching thing out for a while. I like to travel and I’ll have summers off. Little did I realize I would have to spend my summer working a second job to keep a roof over my head in July and August. My friend who was a teacher and liked to travel during the summer could only do so by moving out of an apartment every June, putting her belongings in storage, and spending the summer couch surfing around the globe. Fun in your twenties, not so fun after forty.

Of course, many teachers love their jobs, their students, and they can’t see themselves doing anything else for 30 years, but that doesn’t mean they were sent a message from God to spend their lives as a self-sacrificing saints. There is no sainthood for being a teacher and all teachers don’t necessarily go to heaven. So enjoy life and expect to get paid like a professional going to work everyday, even if you feel like you get to spend your day at the playground.

You would have to be living under a rock to have not heard the terms “fake news” and “alternative facts” dominate the headlines during the first few weeks of Trump’s presidency, but it looks like Miami might be getting its own little dose of government spin if the Miami School Board gets its way and takes direct control over our local broadcasting station WLRN.  As if the School Board’s monthly usurpation of NPR’s “All Things Considered” wasn’t bad enough, they want to control every program and every news story about Miami Dade Public Schools that airs on the network.  The Miami Herald (another media outlet who’s reporting is heavily influenced by the School District), reported this morning that the district wants to extend their control over the network in the interest of student safety http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article133698704.html. According to school district Chief Communications Officer Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, “WLRN’s news staff has not undergone the full criminal background checks required of all public school employees —.”

Are you friggin’ kidding me? We have bullets flying outside of public schools in Miami on the daily and we’re more concerned about protecting our students from some nerdy WLRN public radio reporter?

This was a rather lengthy article by Herald standards so let me deconstruct some of the highlights:

1.The school district wants to force all current WLRN employees to reapply for their jobs and they want the discretion to hire and fire all journalists. As someone who has worked for the Miami Dade School Board for over 13 years, ya’ll better watch the *bleep* out! You’ll be looking at $40,000 geez for life with no job security and if your forte is not sycophancy you’ll no doubt find yourself on the chopping block. Can they make a VAM for journalists?

Never one to approve of high salaries (other than his own), the Superintendent is eager to apply his skills at whittling down employee pay at WLRN as well, “Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and the Friends group have grappled for years over finances, leadership and salaries. Carvalho has publicly criticized Friends’ salaries, calling some of them exorbitant. Reported staff salaries have been significantly reduced, but in 2014, former chief underwriter Michael Peyton’s compensation was listed at close to $400,000 a year — including commissioned sales bonuses — a bigger paycheck than Carvalho earns.”

I can just imagine how irked the Superintendent must be that another public servant in Miami has a salary higher than his own. Though I agree that a $400,000 salary at a public radio station that is begging for funds every other month is not befitting, neither is a public school Superintendent dressed in Armani suits. Even people outside of Miami have taken note of our Superintendent’s best dressed fashion icon status as a blogger in Saint Petersburg described last week, “Superintendent and Fashion Plate Alberto Carvalho can afford to dress like Rico Suave on his $345,000 salary. Teachers making $40K are lucky if they can keep up with their student loans.” http://saintpetersblog.com/florida-abuses-teachers-cant-figure-theres-teacher-shortage/

2. Some fear that WLRN will become more of a a PR machine than it already is, “Hill warned that the proposals could undercut community support and undo years of efforts to produce high-level local journalism if they were to meld the news staff into an extension of the district’s already sizable public relations operation.”

Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of sitting through a School Board meeting has witnessed the dog and pony show for themselves. Imagine if the School Board had complete control of WLRN! What would become of the public hearing portion of monthly School Board meetings? Would they suddenly cut the tape as soon as an unscripted public speaker went off the rails? Would the screen go black and they claim it was due to technical difficulties? Would they suddenly have audio problems? Would they run the monthly test of the Emergency Broadcast system as soon as the public hearing session of the meeting began? One can only imagine…

Here is just one example of how the School Board uses its monthly meeting as Kabuki theater. Last week the School Board went on and on and on about the success of its “Students Success” centers. Even UTD’s President actually managed to show up and speak at a School Board meeting to praise the miracles being performed at the district’s “Student Success” centers. You know when the UTD President shows up to speak at a School Board meeting something fishy is going on. After reading the Herald article this morning, I had my answer.

“In recent months, WLRN has aired stories critical of school district programs, including one that questioned whether the district had followed through on a promise to end out-of-school suspensions, and a high school intern’s piece entitled “Why Is School Lunch Gross?

Here is the link to WLRN’s article about the fallacy behind the district’s elimination of outdoor “suspensions.” http://wlrn.org/post/school-suspensions-continue-spite-miami-dades-no-suspension-policy
Our Superintendent, like President Trump, seems to have an obsession with controlling the media. As reported by the Miami Herald,
“Under Carvalho, who has been honored as the nation’s top schools superintendent, the district communication staff closely monitors media coverage, sometimes pushing back against stories deemed negative, slanted or unfair. The communications staff has made late night calls to argue for changes in Herald stories after they are posted online.”
I can confirm the district’s over zealous tactics in controlling the local media because a Herald reporter actually told me I was on a list of teachers not to interview when they wanted to come to my classroom and observe me using the tablets with students. They offered a name of another teacher at my school who was on the “approved” teacher list instead. The great irony of this naughty and nice list is that the approved teacher refused to use the tablets in his classroom at all. Now that would have made for a great headline, “School District Spends Billions on Tablets that Teachers Refuse to Use.”
I almost find it quaint that in the Digital Age, when any idiot like myself with a keyboard and an Internet connection can disseminate information to thousands with the click of a mouse on a few social media outlets, government entities feel like they can control the message that the public receives about them. Do they think WLRN and the Miami Herald are people’s only two sources of information? Do they think that people would actually watch or listen to the monthly School Board meetings if they weren’t forced to? According to the Herald article, WLRN actually chose to air the School Board meeting the day after the September 11th attacks rather than provide much needed news coverage. If the School Board has their way and gains even more direct control over our public airwaves we can anticipate that WLRN will rebroadcast the monthly school board meetings as frequently as BRAVO reruns episodes of the Housewives.
The School District’s tight control over the local media was one of the reasons I started the Kafkateach blog in the first place. If the Miami Herald didn’t want to cover stories that might not be all sunshine and lollipops about the reality of teaching in Miami Dade County Public Schools, fine, we could create our own news sites and tell our own stories exactly how we wanted them told. Of course, today I run the risk of being categorized as “fake news” and  being permanently banned from posting on Facebook but we need to question what exactly constitutes “fake news.” Is it the news created by people who experience issues first hand and use technology to expose their reality to the masses, or is it news carefully crafted to portray only a positive image at the expense of excluding “alternative facts” that might run counter to spin of the dominate power?

go-green-logo

 

 

 

 

After spending two hours in traffic in order to go eight miles today, the motto of this blog post will be “Go Green.” Lest you think Kafkateach has turned eco-warrior, I will still tie this theme back into my two areas of speciality coverage: School Board meetings and dismal Miami Dade County teacher pay. But first, a short rant about the endless construction zone known as the “305.”

Ironically, as I was set to cover the Industrial Revolution in my class today, I was twenty minutes late to work due to the Brightline rail work shutting down major streets along my commute in addition to being stuck at a railroad crossing waiting for a seemingly endless cargo train going 2 miles an hour to cross the tracks.  Two hundred years after railroads were first invented and we still haven’t come up with a system to use our railways to solve transportation issues rather than create traffic mayhem? I’m all for efficient rail transport,  but how is the Brightline different from the already existent Tri-Rail system?  A truly bright rail line would be elevated above street level with frequent commuter stops up and down the Biscayne corridor so as not to impede car traffic and actually serve as a viable public transportation system to alleviate traffic. I’m beginning to think the company behind the Brightline train is not very bright at all if they chose to shut down major commuter routes during the height of tourist season and boat show weekend!

After spending twenty minutes waiting for a train to pass on my way to work, I got to spend another twenty minutes waiting for a slew of yachts to cross under a small bridge that has been under construction for three years. Fun fact: it took four years to build the freakin’ Golden Gate bridge in the 1930s!!!  All streets surrounding the entrances to my school were under construction and even the parking lot outside of my son’s daycare was being torn up. As if being subjected to the endless construction along my commute today wasn’t bad enough,  it coincided with the monthly hijacking of NPR by the School Board meeting. At this point the Kafkateach blog will return to its regularly scheduled programing: School Board coverage and inadequate teacher pay rants.

I happened to tune in to 91.3 at the exact moment that the School Board was discussing the ever pressing issue of health care. Normally, whenever the School Board and the Superintendent discuss health care it is under the pretext that teachers will not be getting a raise due to rising health care costs. This time my ears perked up when the conversation seemed to be suggesting that health care costs were on the decline. The reason being that employees are making smarter decisions, including the decision to keep spouses off of the district’s health insurance. The district helped employees make the decision by implementing a $500 penalty for insuring an employed spouse this year. Then they preceded to sell employees on using the Bluebook healthcare cost transparency tool by promising that any funds saved in health care costs would be used for employee salaries. The school district will even send you a check for $35 if you use a provider that is coded as “green” (meaning at or below a fair market price). The slogan of the meeting quickly turned into “Go Green” by using the Bluebook healthcare app. If you would like to download the app or just use the website, here is the link healthcarebluebook.com/cc/mdcps.

The Superintendent claims this app made him, “Excited, but in a sad way.” I’m still not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing but I was willing to check out any new app that was being sold to me as a means of increasing teacher pay. Lord knows I’ve done my share of kvetching on this blog about dismal Dade salaries, so if I can use this blog to promote anything that might help give us all a raise, it’s worth a shot. I found the app easy to use and informative. To cite the Superintendent’s example, an ankle MRI had a 840% variance in price. He even suggested it would be cheaper to send employees on a vacation to another state to get the procedure done. Not only do we get to deal with endless construction, traffic, low salaries and high housing costs, our health care costs are amongst the highest in the nation due to Miami Dade being the fraud capital of the world.

In order to incentivize employees to research and find the cheapest options before undergoing a procedure, the district is offering to pay you money if you “Go green” and is promising any funds saved in health insurance will go back to the pool of money used for salaries. Of course, just choosing the cheapest option isn’t always viable when it comes to healthcare. The only time I have used health care services involved me giving birth. I was easily able to use the bluebook tool to see that my hospital of choice was in the “green.” Luckily, that happened to be the hospital closest to my house and place of employment. If an expensive hospital in the “red” zone was the closest hospital to my house, I still would have used it because if a baby is about to come out of my hoo-ha I’m not about to spend two hours in Miami traffic to drive to Homestead so I can save the school district a few bucks. For other procedures, like an MRI, it might be worth an employee’s time to visit a cheaper facility.

My other concern with the viability of the bluebook healthcare tool saving the district money and leading to larger raises would be the retiree factor. Undoubtedly, retirees probably make up a large portion of our healthcare costs due to the nature of aging and accompanying ailments. Retirees would probably be the least likely to use the bluebook healthcare app due to lack of information, reluctance to use technology, and the fact that they have nothing to gain from the system. Those of us who do have something to gain from helping curtail district health insurance costs, should do our part to collectively make decisions that might benefit us all. The dark side of this rhetoric would be the shifting of health care costs to the individual in the form of higher copays and penalties imposed for insuring dependents like the one imposed for insuring spouses this year. For those of you who had to fork up an extra $500 for the right to ensure your spouse, I thank you for helping to pay for my potential raise. Oh, wait, I might have to pay the $500 fee to ensure my spouse next year! Which leads me to ask, if one receives a $500 raise but then is subjected to a new $500 annual health insurance fee, did one really receive a raise at all?

 

devos-worm

Despite impressive efforts by teachers and supporters of public schools, it appears that Betsy DeVos will be confirmed as the next Secretary of Education. We can take comfort in the fact that DeVos will not be the first Secretary of Education to be unqualified for the job and not the first to support the growth of charter schools either (see Arne Duncan). Given the wrecking ball that has been Trump’s first week in office, however, one has to wonder what their first demolition project for public education will be? Will it be a Twitter gag? A massive budget cut? Immigration raids in kindergarten classrooms? More likely it will be the marketing of school choice and vouchers on steroids. I have already seen slick videos promoting school choice pop up on my Facebook feed. Here is one from PragerU (a media platform that promotes conservative values) featuring the California teacher who sued to make union dues optional https://www.prageru.com/courses/political-science/why-good-teachers-want-school-choice. I have to admit, as a parent, this video is pretty convincing. But what is the reality behind the promise of school choice and vouchers?

Let’s first tackle the notion of vouchers. It sounds great in theory. Public funds allotted per pupil will be attached to my child and my child will be able to attend an amazing school of my choice. My reality trying to use the Florida pre-K voucher, however, has been nothing but a bitter disappointment. After spending several homes worth of money on child care over the last eight years, I’m desperate for a way to save money on preschool. The first disappoint about the Florida VPK voucher was that it only covers half a day worth of preschool. What parent works four hours a day? So I will still be footing a signifiant portion of the bill for my preschooler’s education. I thought I would at least be able to save a few hundred dollars a month by registering him at a preschool that accepts the VPK voucher. Therein lies bitter disappointment number two, not many preschools actually  accept the VPK voucher.  Any preschool that I wanted to send my child to pretty much laughed in my face when I asked if they took the VPK voucher. The schools that did not respond with a snooty, “Oh, no we don’t accept THOSE,” explained that they didn’t want to deal with the hassle of the paperwork or standardized testing tied to government vouchers.  Since the private preschools where I wanted to send my child won’t accept the vouchers, my only hope is that I win the lottery for free preschool at my neighborhood public school. So much for government vouchers saving me money and giving me quality schooling options.

I can only predict that vouchers for primary and secondary schools will be equally useless. The state of Florida allocates roughly $7,000 per pupil so you can expect any vouchers parents receive to be worth approximately $7,000. I got news for you parents, there are no private schools that charge only $7,000 a year. The cheapest private school I’ve encountered is a Catholic school for $15,000 a year. The more expensive prep schools can cost up to $30,000. You think those poor inner city children attending the “failing” neighborhood school have parents that are going to be able to shell out another $8,000 a year for a quality private school?  And just like those snooty preschools that either don’t want the sort of child that comes attached to the voucher or the paperwork or the testing that also comes attached to the voucher, just because you “choose” a school doesn’t mean they have to choose you.

Florida is about to enter the unbridled world of public school choice across county lines in the coming school year and we will soon find out how the promise of “choice” works out when parents have the right to send their child to any public school in the state of Florida (provided they are not at capacity). Therein lies the catch, most schools that parents would want to send their children to are already at capacity. Each school district is allowed to define “at capacity” in their own way. So don’t expect to have that much “choice” when sending your children to a school outside their designated local school boundary either.

I don’t know about the rest of the parents out there, but I have no interest in driving  45 minutes to Boca Raton twice a day so my child can attend an “A” rated school anyways. Traffic in South Florida is bad enough, we don’t need to worsen it by making parents drive 30 miles out of their way twice a day so their child can go to a school of their choice. Our kids are obese and sit on their behinds more than any other previous generation, the last thing we should be encouraging them to do is spend hours everyday commuting to a school with a better reputation when they could easily walk to their local school instead.  If it were up to me, my kids would attend an excellent neighborhood school that they could walk to in the morning and walk home from in the afternoon. That would be my first choice. That would be most parents’ choice and that’s why real estate values of homes within walking distance of A rated public schools are much higher than neighborhoods with poorly rated public school options. Does anyone think that poor single working moms who probably have to take the bus to multiple jobs are really going to be able to drop off and pick up their kids from schools miles away from where they live? As we are beginning to see, the convincing sales pitch of “school choice” is not much of a choice at all when put into practice.

And who is to say that having multiple options is all that great if all of your choices suck? When I go to the grocery store to buy yogurt I’m confronted with hundreds of options: zero fat yogurt, sugar free yogurt, yogurt I can suck out of a tube or drink from a bottle, yogurt that promises to taste like key lime pie. But all I want is some full fat plain yogurt where the only ingredient listed is milk and I can’t find it. I have hundreds of options, but none of them are what I want. I can see school choice working out the same way. All I want is a nice local public school that my children can walk to and become friends with the children that live in their neighborhood and get some sense of community with a broad range of extra curricular activities. Apparently that seems to be what most parents would choose if given the choice according to an article in the Palm Beach Post that recently ran citing figures that show more parents are now “choosing” their local public schools over charter schools http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/more-pbc-parents-choosing-traditional-public-schools-over-charters/QFO9gh4c4x5EJ3PDzxuiRI/.

So buyers beware.  The promise of school choice and vouchers which will surely be part of the Betsy DeVos education agenda may sound appealing at first but may actually offer you worse options in the long run. The nice thing about parental “choice” is that it works both ways. We may find that when given a choice, the majority of parents continue to choose their local public schools.

 

vam-deform

This past week I had to give a speech that no teacher ever wants to give. I had to give a speech at my deceased student’s memorial service. He was tragically struck and killed by a car while riding his bike home after helping one of his teachers at his old middle school. He was that type of kid. The type of student that spends his free time helping his teachers. The type of student who knows exactly how to help a teacher before they even ask him. The type of student who can solve any technical problem in your classroom, find a bootleg version of any film your heart desires, and bring you the most delicious homemade samosas to share with your class. He was the type of kid who respects and loves his teachers (even when they give him a bad grade) because he came from a family and culture that respects and loves teachers.

The most touching moment of the memorial came when they played a recording of my student as a six year old child reciting a ten minute long Hindu prayer in Sanskrit that did nothing but extol teachers. Ten minutes of expressing love and respect for teachers as a source of enlightenment and truth. I don’t know what made me cry more, the sound of my student as a six year old boy reminding me of my own children and the immeasurable pain his own parents must be feeling after losing their only child, or just hearing ten minutes of  heart felt appreciation towards teachers after listening to ten years of teacher bashing and dealing with one anti-teacher legislation after the next. It made me wonder what our educational system could be if all our students were taught even a ten second utterance of respect for their teachers? Indian and East Asian students have a stereotype of being model students because they come from cultures where respect for teachers is deeply engrained in their belief systems. In Confucianism, the ideal person is the sage and teachers are referred to as “masters.” In Hinduism, the guru is seen as almost godly and as important as one’s parents. Why should students who grow up in a culture with a constant stream of pejorative statements about teachers value the professionals who have dedicated their lives to helping them learn?

The disrespect for teachers displayed by most students has become so pervasive that they think it is perfectly acceptable to literally tune their teachers out with little white ear buds or colorful Beats headphones. How many times a day does your average school teacher have to waste their breath asking a student to remove their headphones? How many times a day do they have to listen to the ridiculous response, “But I’m not even listening to anything.” THEN WHY THE HELL ARE YOU WEARING THEM???? TO LOOK COOL? TO MAKE IT SEEM LIKE YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY HEAR ANYTHING YOUR TEACHER IS TRYING TO TELL YOU? TO MAKE IT SEEM LIKE YOU COULD CARE LESS THAT YOUR TEACHER JUST SPENT TWO HOURS TRYING TO PLAN A LESSON THAT WOULD ENGAGE YOUR EASILY DISTRACTED BEHIND!  Sorry for the caps lock but I am screaming. It’s so outrageous that your average student thinks wearing headphones in class at all times is not an act of disrespect. One day (when I can afford a pair of Beats headphones) I am going to wear them while I teach just to show students how ridiculous they look. When they come to my classroom during lunch or after school, I will wear my Beats headphones and nonchalantly blast some gangsta rap or EDM while they ask for help. To me, students wearing headphones in class is the ultimate sign of disrespect and just shows what little value most students have for anything a teacher has to say to them these days.

What if our students came from a culture that valued teachers as esteemed gurus instead of incompetent losers who plan on spending their adult lives sucking at the government teat? When politicians pass punitive policies towards teachers such as VAM based teacher evaluations and bizarre merit pay schemes, they send the message that teachers are somehow not worthy of fair evaluations and a stable source of compensation that rewards them in a manner similar to other professions that require four year degrees and certifications. This past week,  Florida legislators and the Miami School Board continued to show that they don’t have a clue as to why we have a teacher shortage or how to end it. One mean spirited legislator actually wants to sponsor a bill that would make it illegal to offer effective and highly effective teachers any type of job security. As if this state doesn’t have any greater problems to deal with than a highly effective teacher keeping their job the following year?

The Florida Senate released their plan to raise teacher pay this week as well  http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/education/fl-teacher-pay-legislature-20170125-story.html. All of their ideas involve some sort of bonus or merit pay plan. Sorry, but I am going to have to use caps lock again as apparently the entire Florida Legislature is wearing Beats headphones when it comes to listening to teachers, THERE IS NO FAIR WAY TO IMPLEMENT MERIT PAY! IF YOU REWARD TEACHERS BASED ON GROWTH, YOU PENALIZE TEACHERS WHO TEACH THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF STUDENTS. WHEN YOU REWARD TEACHERS BASED ON PROFICIENCY RATES, YOU PENALIZE TEACHERS WHO TEACH THE NEEDIEST LEARNERS. There was even some discussion of allowing principals to decide which teachers deserved bonuses. Imagine the can of worms that would open! The principal’s two BFF teachers will get a nice chunk of change while the rest of the staff gets thrown peanuts. That would work wonders for staff morale! ONE FINAL TIME FLORIDA LEGISLATURE: TEACHERS DO NOT GET EXCITED BY THE WORDS “MERIT PAY” OR “BONUS.” They know those bonuses will be either trivial, impossible to attain, or based on some nonsense criteria like decades old test scores and VAM. A bonus is not guaranteed and can easily be discontinued at the first sign of an economic recession. Teachers get excited by the words “raise” or the very sexy, but no longer en vogue ,”cost of living adjustment.”

Speaking of cost of living, the Miami School Board has decided their answer to a teaching shortage caused in part by incredibly high rents and comparatively low salaries is subsidized housing instead of raising teacher pay. The School Board will become a modern day company town that provides housing to its workforce that can’t afford to pay the rent anywhere within a 90 mile radius of where they teach. They want to build affordable condo units on top of a new school in the Brickell area where teachers who work at the school could live. Though some teachers might relish the thought of a short commute and an affordable apartment in Brickell, many teachers have no interest in living on top of the school where they teach, being surrounded by their teacher coworkers 24/7, or being beholden to their employer overlord. It may do wonders for teacher retention, however, if teachers know they will be kicked out of their affordable housing unit if they decide to quit their job. Many teachers feel insulted by the mere thought of living in subsidized housing after going to college for four years and obtaining masters degrees. Dare I suggest that raising starting pay to $50,000 so teachers can afford to live in the city where they teach might do a better job of attracting and retaining teachers in Dade County  than offering a few teachers affordable studio apartments?

The Beats headphones, the refusal to give teachers who have proven themselves highly effective in the classroom any sort of job security, merit pay schemes based on absurd evaluation systems, and subsidized housing for teachers all stem from a culture rooted in disrespect for educators. Although attending the memorial service for a deceased student is something I hope to never have to do again, witnessing the deep love and respect for teachers that his culture and his family instilled in him made me feel blessed to be in attendance. Thirteen years as a educator in this country and I have never felt as warmly embraced and loved for my choice of profession as I did at my student’s memorial service. Our school dedicated a wing in his honor and whenever I have a bad day in the classroom, perhaps on a day when I have had to wrestle the fifth set of Beats headphones from a student, I will pass through that hall to look at his plaque and remember what a light and gift he was to all of his teachers. To hope that one day I will be graced with many more students like him and live long enough to see the “bad teacher” narrative shift to one that spiritually and financially values its educators.

barack-obama-donald-trump-zoom-c9634d61-1e40-4b75-a8d9-bbace49fab7d

So it happened. Yesterday, Donald J Trump became the 45th President of the United States.  I have made my fair share of predictions on this blog, but Donald Trump becoming President of the United States was never one of them. Today it’s January 21, 2017 and the leader of our nation is a real estate reality TV show mogul with zero governing experience and a bad spray tan. We currently have an insomniac twitter addict who can’t control his hands (whether it be ridiculous gestures during his speeches or unrestrained grabbing of female genitalia) in the White House (sans supermodel immigrant wife) but relax people, we will survive.  As far as I can tell the world has not ended and no one, despite their many Facebook proclamations, has moved to Canada.

Speaking of Facebook, last week my Facebook stream was filled with hilarious memes about future Secretary of Education DeVos and grizzly bears, video clips of DeVos being grilled by Senators which showed her complete ignorance of public education policy, and petitions labeling DeVos as the most unqualified Secretary of Education ever. She probably is the most unqualified Secretary of Education ever but when you consider her true job may be to diminish, or even dismantle, the Federal Department of Education, she may actually be qualified. While the outrage of the appointment of DeVos is merited, I wonder where the Facebook teacher outrage was over the past eight years while Obama and Duncan dismantled the teaching profession, turned our schools into year round testing factories, and siphoned off public school funds to corporations and charter schools? While it was nice to see UTD actually staging a protest against Devos last Thursday (even if only 100 teachers showed up), this is the same teachers’ union that smilingly signed on to Obama’s Race to the Top grant which ended tenure, gave us VAM, merit pay and ultimately stole your steps. Obama basically handed the teachers’ union a platter of stinking excrement and they treated it like it was a pot of gold just because it was coming from Obama.

Yesterday’s inaugural address led to more teacher outrage when Trump declared that our public school system is awash in funds but our students are deprived of resources. I actually liked that part of his speech. Our public school system is awash in funds, the problem is most of those funds don’t end up in the classroom. Every day there is a letter or a blog or a Facebook post by a teacher decrying the lack of copy paper, toner, textbooks, and overcrowded classrooms. As teachers, I think we can all agree that our students are indeed deprived of resources. But the truth is that public education budgets are enormous but the funding rarely ends up in the classroom where it is most likely to benefit the students.

Let’s use President Obama’s and Secretary Duncan’s signature education policy, Race to the Top, as just one example of a public education system that was awash in funds but did absolutely nothing to benefit students.  According to Wikipedia:

RTTT was $4.35 billion United States Department of Education competitive grant created to spur and reward innovation and reforms in state and local district K-12 education. It was announced by President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on July 25, 2009. States were awarded points for satisfying certain educational policies, such as performance-based evaluations for teachers and principals based on standardized test scores, adopting common standards, adoption of policies that do not prohibit the expansion of high-quality charter schools, turning around the lowest-performing schools, and building and using data systems.

$4.35 billion federal tax payer dollars earmarked for education wasted on expensive teacher evaluation systems that have for the most part already been abandoned, an expensive computer based testing system that has for the most part been abandoned, the expansion of charter schools many of which have been abandoned, and expensive data systems which have also been abandoned (think Thinkgate).  One of the stated purposes of the grant was to attract the best and brightest to the teaching profession, but the opposite has occurred instead. Many of the best and brightest teachers have abandoned teaching in public school systems with VAM based evaluations and no prospects of future pay increases or job security. We are now facing a national teacher shortage thanks in large part to Obama and Duncan’s education policies. Of the $4.3 billion dollars spent by the Department of Education, not one penny benefitted an actual student. Meanwhile, Washington based “nonprofits” like AIR (the company which created the value added models adopted by many states), testing companies like Pearson and technology companies like Microsoft made a killing at the expense of tax payers and public school teachers and students. This is exactly what Trump was talking about in his speech when he referenced Washington benefiting while the country suffered, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capitol has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.”

That’s about all of the Trump speech I have the stomach to publish, but I want to point out to all the teary-eyed teachers on Facebook, Obama was not your friend and Duncan was not particularly qualified to be Secretary of Education either. He had a terrible track record as Superintendent of Chicago public schools and his legacy as Secretary of Education is just as bad.

So how will Trump’s record on public education compare to Obama’s? It’s a little too early to tell but I think we can expect less federal funding and less of the federal regulations and paperwork that accompany that funding. We can definitely expect to see an expansion of vouchers and charter schools, but charters expanded further under the Obama  administration than any other president. Vouchers are concerning but maybe a little competition is a good thing.

Consider last week when superintendents in Florida testified in Tallahassee that there was too much testing, requested that we return to paper and pencil tests, and even suggested the law tying teacher evaluations to test scores be repealed. Even more shocking, state representatives actually agreed with them! Why all of a sudden has the voice of reason been raised in the Florida legislature? Because lawmakers and superintendents know the federal gravy train of public education dollars is over and vouchers are heading our way under the public school hating trinity of Trump, Devos, and Rick Scott. Superintendents of public school districts know they won’t be able to compete with private school vouchers if their schools essentially remain shut down for testing from March until June when parents can easily “opt out” of standardized testing by sending their children to accountability free private schools instead. As a parent, if I have a choice between sending my child to a public school with 40 kids in the room and I know there are constant disruptions to their education for months on end due to testing, that private school voucher is going to look pretty good. Additionally, as a teacher, working at private school with zero testing, no absurd VAM based annual evaluation, small class sizes, a free catered lunch complete with a salad bar and rotisserie meats, and a starting salary over $50,000 is going to be very tempting. Maybe the public school districts will have to compete for teachers by bringing back tenure, higher salaries than private schools, and reasonable student loads and class sizes? Or maybe I’m just a dreamer who is going to be out of job after two years of Trump as President.

Only time will tell, but in the meantime, educators of America don’t despair. It may be painful to look at an orange President with crazy hair and hard to listen to speeches based on instinct, action and three word sentences. But it wasn’t all good under President Obama either. I will not miss teacher blaming, test obsessed education policies like Race to the Top or the fact that Bill Gates served as the de facto education czar for eight years. I will not miss Obama’s education policies at all.  I will miss Obama’s eloquence and grace as well as his intellect and reflection. The best thing about the Obama presidency was what he represented. The swirly international mix of America and the possibility of humans from all origins rising to the country’s highest office through hard work, intelligence and ambition. The same cannot be said for Mr. Trump who represents privilege, isolation, and ignorance. But maybe an artificially sun-kissed boogey man in chief will be just what teachers, parents, unions, superintendents, and lawmakers need to finally rally together on behalf of our public schools. After all, politics does make for strange bed fellows.