math

I think I may have just cracked the Rosetta Stone of Dade County’s future performance pay salary schedule. A few weeks back I wrote a blog about Miami Dade public school teachers facing a future of 1% pay increases https://kafkateach.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/mdcps-employees-welcome-to-the-one-percent/based on a performance pay schedule presented by the district.

To most people, the alphabetical based pay schedule looked like nothing more than alphabet soup and no one could make any sense out of it. Some were able to do basic math and realized there were now 56 steps to reach the top of the pay schedule, which barring a massive increase in Dade County teacher life expectancy, no one would ever reach the top of the salary schedule again. Then last week the “historic” contract presented an average 2% raise for most employees with only 19 steps to reach the top. Many teachers will receive a raise larger than their step increase was slated to be, but some teachers, especially the misfortunate crew of Les Miserable teachers on step 22 would be receiving half of a $7,000 pay step they had already waited three years to get (insert crying emoticon).

The catch, which no one seems to be paying much attention to (especially UTD stewards) is that the words “step” and “experience” have been crossed out on the contract. So Kafkateach got to wondering how these two pay schedules were related and somehow my bottom of the top 20th percentile SAT math challenged brain may have figured it out.

The district came up with an alphabet based schedule because years of experience would no longer be considered as a basis for pay under the new contract. The union will say this is in order to be compliant with SB736. That is a half-truth at best. SB736 allows for a step schedule based on years of experience that veteran teachers are grandfathered into, and then a separate performance based pay schedule had to be created for new hires. Under the law, veteran teachers could opt into the performance pay schedule but they would have to relinquish professional contract status. By forcing veteran teachers onto a pay for performance schedule which eliminates steps altogether and bases even veteran teachers’ pay off of their evaluations, Dade County and UTD are actually breaking the law (see also http://shawnbeightol.com/blog/2015/08/28/recent-salary-proposal-from-utd-and-mdcps-is-illegal-and-is-set-to-defraud-you-of-your-statutorily-established-step-system/) But that’s how we do it in Dade. We tend to manipulate the law (see also “School of Choice” loophole) and do what is most financially and logistically expedient. But I digress, back to Kafkateach Math 101.

The district basically looked at the top of the pay scale ($70,000) and created a new pay schedule based on what a typical salary negotiation budget might look like at 1%. That explains the largest “salary adjustment” being $700 on the alphabet soup schedule. SB736 mandates that highly effective teachers must be paid more than the highest step, and effective teachers could be paid anywhere from 50-75% of the “salary adjustment” given to highly effective teachers. That explains where the other $400 “salary adjustments” on the alphabet soup schedule came from. So now you have a workable blended performance pay schedule for Dade County teachers based on a 1% budget.

So why the need for 56 steps on the alphabet soup schedule and how does this relate to the current 19 step schedule being voted on by teachers on September 8th? Let’s say in a very good year the state budget allows for a 3% “salary adjustment” rather than 1%. If you multiply 19 x 3 you get 57, which is almost the same as the 56 steps on the alphabet soup schedule. This year there was no need for the district and UTD to present the performance pay schedule in the contract because teachers hired this year will not have evaluations until January of 2017 at the earliest. Next year both new hires and veteran teachers will have their pay based off of their evaluations, so I imagine we will see the alphabet soup schedule reappear then. Which got me to wondering if future “salary adjustments” would be retroactive given the long delay in our evaluations. When I asked UTD if future “salary adjustments” would be retroactive, this was their response.

“Retroactive salary adjustments are more dependent on the budget then they are on the evaluations. We cannot predict how that will be affected at this time.”

That answer leads me to conclude that this year’s contract is indeed very “historic” because we will never see another contract with retroactive pay again. It saves the district approximately $20,000,000 a year when they delay the contract ratification and give teachers half of what they should have been paid if the contract had gone into effect at the beginning of the school year.

So there you have it folks, Kafkateach’s attempt at solving the Rosetta Stone of Dade County’s future pay for performance schedule and Kafkateach’s attempt at doing basic math early on a Saturday morning. ***FULL DISCLAIMER: I MAY BE TOTALLY WRONG*** Call me a conspiracy theory nut if you like, but conspiracies arise because of the lack of information and truth from people in power. I asked some of the UTD stewards at my school to forward this Q & A with UTD about the contract from another UTD steward to my staff because I found the information to be helpful and neutral in tone. My request was ignored. This leads me to believe there was just a little too much truthiness to these responses. I have posted the Q & A below, feel free to distribute to other confused MDCPS employees as you wish.

  1. Q: Even though the A0 Salary schedule includes both Grandfather and Performance salary schedules, will there be a distinction in salary adjustments for those that are “Grandfathered” (professional/continuingcontract) and those that are “Performance”(annual contract)?

A: Not this year.  A distinction will be made in future negotiations as required by law.

  1. Q:  Is there any monetary incentive for professional/continuing contract teachers to become annual contract teachers?

       

A: No.  This year absolutely not.  In the future, the goal is to keep the “salary adjustments” very similar in order to eliminate any real   reason to surrender your PSC.

  1. Q: Will a highly effective teacher on the same step receive more money than an effective teacher?

A: Not this year.  A distinction will be made in future negotiations as required by law.

  1. Q: Will priority for salary adjustment “budgeted” money be given to teachers rated highly effective regardless of their years of service?

A: No.  Our plan is to negotiate simultaneously for both.  The law says that you cannot disadvantage the Performance Schedule.  The plan is

to not disadvantage either schedule.

  1.  Q: “All employees will remain on their current step.”  Does this mean employees will never move up a step and that any adjustments to salary

depend on maintaining a highly effective or effective rating?

A: Employees will actually move up a step in the portal.  Most employees are getting more $ than the step indicates.  A few weeks after the

raise is effective (depending on how long it take to change SAP) all references to steps will be removed from the portal and replaced with

“Annual Salary.”

  1. Q: In a subsequent year, will teachers lose a salary adjustment if they fall from highly effective to effective, or are all salary adjustments

permanent increases?

A: No.  All salary adjustments are permanent regardless of whether the employee is on grandfathered or performance schedule.  This was

one area where SB 736 was slightly improved over SB 6 that Crist vetoed the prior year.

  1. Q: What is implicated by the “minimum “and “maximum,’ as the scratched out wording indicates that years of experience will no longer be a

factor in determining salary even though the categories “grandfather” and “performance” continue to exist?

A: Min and Max indicate the range of pay that teachers earn.  The range is exactly the same at the current lowest step and the new highest

step.  As we move forward, salary adjustments may vary based on schedule and performance and therefore employees will not be all paid   the same based on their years in the system.  Our goal is to limit the variance, but a variance will occur.  The minimum and maximum will

also continue to be an issue that is negotiable each year.

  1. Q:  For employees required to wear uniforms, what are the implications for a taxable allowance as opposed to reimbursement that does not

exceed $250.00?

A: This is an IRS Compliance Issue.  Instead of receipts going to MDCPS, employees keep the receipts and deduct it from their taxes.

  1. Q:  Does the elimination of the word “waiver” in regards to the eight period day indicate that no longer can conditions be attached to the vote

by the staff?

A: No.  The vote is still in place and the vote language is strengthened regarding who conducts the vote and how the vote is conducted.

Anytime a 60% or 66% vote is needed, employees have leverage.  If employees are willing to vote No if they do not get “x” (regardless of

what “x” is) you can attach whatever condition you want to the discussion with administration.  If employees are going to vote Yes

regardless of whether the administration provides “x” then you never had any leverage to begin with.  The change to this provision just

removes EESAC from the formula.  Teachers will determine by a super-majority whether or not they want block scheduling or the 4×4

(SSRI).

  1. Q: Will the committee composed of UTD and MDCPS representatives result in a MOU or LOU that mandates set practices in regards to

planning, collaborative planning, lesson study, and enhanced professional development that could possibly demand more work without

more compensation and or supersede  contractual academic freedom?

A: Possibly.  The contract allows for MOUs between contract ratifications.  It is also important to note that neither Committee must agree to

anything.  The agreement is that we will continue to discuss these issues as they could not be fully discussed/debated in time to finish a

contract by the beginning of school.  UTD continues to support Academic Freedom and remains skeptical about some of the practices from

ETO etc.  The Committee is tasked with issues related to a number of topics, some that members would find desirable.  UTD is not going to

agree to something that is not supported by the membership.  Unlike some other issues in the past, we are under no legal obligation to

make these changes.  If something is a good deal for both, you may see it.  If no good deal is available, I suspect nothing will come of the

Committee(s).

  1. Q:  Will a highly effective teacher in the “Performance Salary” pool receive a higher increase than the same teacher in the “Grandfathered”

pool?

A: No.  Not this year.

  1. Q: You state that it is “your plan” and “your goal” to negotiate similar increases in both the “grandfathered” pool and the “performance”

pool. How can you guarantee that those who choose to maintain their PSC and who continue to be ranked as Highly Effective or Effective

will not be disadvantaged versus those who forego their PSC?

A: No guarantees.  Each year employees will see the raises for various schedules and performance levels and they can decide for

themselves.  I can only tell you our goal as of now and let you know that MDCPS is not opposed to our goal as of now.  Laws change,

funding changes, decision makers on both sides change.  The current goal is the current goal.

  1. Q: While it was previously clear how many years it would take a teacher to reach the top of the pay scale, assuming that the Union

Effectively negotiated a step move each year, it seems less clear how (or if) any teacher will make it to the top of the pay scale. Can you

Provide an example of a case showing the Union’s “plan” or “goal” as to how a teacher presently at each given step would see salary

increases each year that would result in reaching the current Step 23 level while retaining their PSC?

A:  The schedule has changed multiple times and will continue to change.  When some teachers started, 3 columns existed.  Those columns

were moved into one and people were reset on steps.  Steps have been added to schedule, primarily at the top many times over the year and recently some have been added just under the top pay.  Steps were removed 14, 16 and 18 so that people would move up faster.  The

contention that the step schedule has never changed is untrue.  Multiple times step advancements did not take place.  Recently we lost

steps in bad economic times.  This happened in the early 90s and around 2003-04 as well.  Salary negotiations have always been subject to

annual budgets and annual negotiations.  The clearest evidence of this is when we agreed to the 2006-09 contract, we included very detailed

raises for all three years, but the raises in year 3 never materialized because the money was not there. Salary Adjustments going forward

will be negotiated within the parameters of the law.  The adjustments will be more equitable top to bottom whether they are percentage

based or based on a dollar amount as opposed to the current model which has steps of .4% to steps of 11.96%.  Employee thoughts about

the salary schedule vary widely depending on their current step and personal experience moving up in salary.

  1. Q:  In this chart, if I am in step 7 I will earn $844 more than I did before?

A: Yes.  An increase of $844(2%) instead of the base step increase of $169 (.4%).  The entire raise is applied to base pay/daily rate and is retro

to July 1, 2015.

  1. Q:   Is this raise however the TOP amount I can get if I am “highly effective”, or is it the raise I will receive regardless of my teacher evaluation?

A: The raise is based on your current schedule placement and is not impacted by your evaluation.

  1. Q:  Also, if I was on Step 13 last year, will I be on Step 15 this year and earn $48,425?

A: No.  If you were on step 13 last year (43,847) you will be on step 15 ($45,897).  Your raise is $2,050 instead of the $1,853 you would have

received with a base step increase.  You insert $48,425 which is the new step 17.  All references to step in this answer will be irrelevant

after the raises are implemented and steps are removed from the portal replaced simply by your annual salary.  You see your raise and

new salary by moving across the page.  Do not go down a line.  This is why arrows are included on the sheet.

  1.   Q: If they are doing away with the Steps, what is the scale they will use every year?

A: No scale.  Employees each have a salary.  Employees will receive a raise/salary adjustment based upon their prior year salary, which

schedule they are on (grandfathered/performance), and their evaluation of Effective of Highly Effective (If on Performance).  The salary

adjustments will be negotiated each year in compliance with state law.

  1. Q: And, will they ever give us back the Steps they froze a couple of years ago?

A: No.  The legislature did not provide funding to make up steps that were missed in the recession.  The salary schedule is required to

change by law and therefore “steps”” will no longer exist.  If additional funds are provided in the future to make up for the lean years,

they will be applied to all employee salaries as negotiated at that time.  The step schedule will not be used to determine raises after this

year.

  1. Q: So, in a way are they sneaking a step increase in this year???

A: Yes, but we do not want to say step as we are not using that term going forward.  We also have a group (14.13% of teachers) that receive

less than the step.  These are the teachers currently on steps 15  (they get $2725 instead of $3300), step 17 (they get $ 2900 instead of

$3000), step 21 (they get $3425 instead of $5464) and step 22 (they get $3761 instead of $7511).  Each of these groups is getting roughly a 6%

raise (highest MDCPS would go) which is higher than all other employees who mostly get around 2% (but some get less than 2%).  All teachers

are getting a raise.  85.87% of teachers are getting a raise that provides them with more $ than a simple step on the old/current schedule.  We

are dropping the term step and moving to base/annual salary in order to allow for negotiations with in the parameters of the law going

forward.

  1. Q: What about paraprofessionals? I’m in the step before last and for many years we haven’t advanced a step which in my case is like $8,000. Will I ever get there?  It’s so unfair that I’ve been stuck there for so many years.

A: Cannot say if it will happen or when.  They have received a raise every year which has been across the board %.  The % is better for many,

but those on the next to last step are clearly the exception.  We have pressed this issue many times, but MDCPS has an issue with steps for

ESPs.  The huge raise that some would get is a major part of their objection.  We also often get pushback based on the fact that MDCPS must

negotiate with other employee groups after UTD.  If they give steps to ESPS (about 4% because of those huge jumps) they would need to

give other employees 4% as they have “me too” clauses.  MDCPS does not have the funds to provide 4% to all.  Actually, they have offered to

raise healthcare costs significantly and give everyone 4% in salary.  That has always been a non-starter for us.  We cannot increase healthcare

costs to even higher rates in order to provide a little better raise.  The two must work in tandem for all.  At least that is what we hear from the

membership when we survey and what we see in ratification votes.  The last contract to get voted down imposed a cost share on all

employees for health insurance (No free option).  That was not seen favorably by the membership and the group sentiment has not

changed.

  1. Q: Joe, another concern among teachers is caps on the number of teachers who will be rated highly effective. It seems Broward has deliberately kept the number of highly effective teachers at a minimum.  Read the comment I received:

“I imagine Runcie will go to Tally this spring to make sure that the state creates a bell curve for each district since there is such a variance across districts as to the number of highly effective teachers. Last year it was 39% highly effective for Dade but only 5% in Broward.  They didn’t have to pay us anything so they didn’t care. As soon as they have to pay us more for being highly effective, I imagine some sort of quota will have to be developed. They will also save money by not having to give money to any teachers rated ineffective.”

I know UTD has nothing to do with that, but can we expect that here in our district?

A: We negotiate this issue with MDCPS annually.  The issue will change a bit as the FLDOE passed rules about test scores and ratings.  We will find a way to implement those rules in the best interest of teachers, like we did with the rest of SB 736.  We have to follow the letter of the law, but we have some latitude in how we do it.  It is also important to note that the new model we have proposed (which will keep the value of HE Perf fairly close to the GF Salary Adjustment) should reduce outside pressure to cap the number of HE teachers.  Most districts are capping the number because of the economic pressures of the two competing schedules.  We believe that we have significantly reduced any basis for that pressure with this model.  We had 35% HE last year and 38% the prior year.

rick scott cartoon

This past week was filled with big announcements for Miami Dade County Public School teachers. Only these big announcements were made in such a stealth manner that many teachers are probably still completely unaware of them. Normally my school UTD steward is a man in love with the microphone. Give the man a mic and he can go on and on and on. At this week’s back to school meetings, our steward stood up and spoke for a combined total of fifty seconds. His ten words consisted of, “We want 100% UTD membership,” and “We have a great administration” (which we do, but we know that and you probably should have used your time to discuss Best and Brightest and ongoing contract negotiations). The usually rambling steward’s brevity was the first red flag. He probably wanted to sit down as soon as possible before any hardball questions or rotten tomatoes could be thrown at him.

MDCPS had yet to inform teachers of the Florida Best and Brightest Scholarships and I was beginning to think the district had put some sort of gag order on UTD when the UTD President only briefly referenced Best and Brightest as a “strange program” passed at the last second in Tallhassee. So given my obsessive nature when something just doesn’t seem to pass the smell test, I emailed the head of human resources who informed me that the district had just sent out the guidelines for Best and Brightest Scholarships in the “weekly briefing.” If there was ever a place to put information where you knew no teacher would ever look at it, it’s in the district’s weekly briefing email. That’s an auto delete for most teachers. Unless you had a particularly proactive principal who actually read the briefing and forwarded it to their staff, you would have no idea what Best and Brightest was and how to apply. So in case you accidentally deleted your MDCPS Weekly Briefing email without ever opening it, here is the link to apply for a Best and Brightest Scholarship http://www.formpl.us/form/0B5urFLjA2A_rV19ZTF9aSk5rWUE/

Of note, they are using your 2013-14 evaluation and you have to take a picture of your test score report and upload it with your application. I think everyone should apply and let the district sort through 20,000 blurry smartphone shots of archived SAT scores. Let them figure out who is qualified and who is not. But please don’t tell a particular UTD steward who was bashing me on Facebook the other day for trying to provide information for how other teachers can apply for Best and Brightest. According to said steward, I was ruining his and other teachers’ chances of getting the full $10,000 and I should be afraid of the high scoring, highly effective uniformed teachers at my school who might come after me for helping other teachers net some easy cash.

Now let’s move on to the REALLY BIG ANNOUNCEMENT that was made when we were all held captive at our opening of schools meeting and being read the twenty page packet word for word. As we were going over the lunch schedule for day 3, it was announced that UTD and the district had managed the impossible by coming to an agreement prior to Labor Day.

http://www.utd.org/pdf/TentativeAgreement2015-17SuccessorContract.pdf

They also managed the impossible by giving teachers a 3% RETROACTIVE raise!  The usual downtrodden masses beneath step 12 only got 1.8%, (which is actually better than the 0.75% we normally receive). District health insurance costs were also cut for many employees. That was the good news. Now on to the bad news (you knew it was coming).

Many of us who tend to be slightly skeptical of anything agreed upon by both the union and the district thought the timing to be a bit rushed. Announcement on the Friday of the most stressful weekend of the year for teachers? Vote to be held the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend when most teachers are off getting plastered in the Keys because they finally have a paycheck again and they survived the first week of school? The vote will also be cast the day before the next School Board meeting when teachers would have had time to address the new contract in front of the School Board and in a public forum.  Alarm bells were ringing in my head and I woke up at 3 a.m. to read the contract. TEACHERS PLEASE READ THE CONTRACT BEFORE YOU VOTE! At least read the part about future salaries. Some key words were crossed out, “steps” and “experience.” They were replaced by something called a “salary adjustment.” I guess it’s better than last year’s “annualized stipend” language but it is still unchartered territory and terminating the use of the words “steps” and “experience” is very scary for those of us who were hoping to remain on a grandfathered step schedule. When I read UTD’s “What a Yes Vote Means” memo, I was a little surprised to see that there was no mention that a yes vote meant an end to steps and an end to being paid for years of experience. When I pointed this out on UTD’s Facebook page, I received a quick response of “look at bullet point 5.” So I went and looked at bullet point 5, which states:

  • “The new Minimum/Maximum Salary Schedule is sustainable and in compliance with current Florida Statute mandates as modified by Senate Bill 736 (The current step model is not in compliance and is not sustainable).”

I think many employees realized that the larger steps had to be reduced because the pay for “highly effective” had to be greater than the largest step and there was no way the district was going to pay an extra $7,000 to every highly effective teacher. What I think most teachers would be totally ignorant of if they just read UTD’s talking points is that steps would be gone completely and experience would not be a factor in any future “salary adjustments.” That is a “historic contract” to parrot the words of the Superintendent and UTD’s President select (not a typo).

I know many teachers will get excited about a raise of $2,000 or $3000, probably any teacher above step 12 and support personnel will be happy with a 2.75% raise and reduction in health insurance costs. If you are thinking long-term, or a teacher who got the usual three digit shaft raise, there are very important implications in this contract that have not been adequately addressed by UTD.

What is clear:

  • There will be no more steps and experience will not be a consideration for future salary adjustments.
  • The largest salary adjustment will be approximately $3700 for both performance pay annual contract teachers and grandfathered continuing contract teachers.
  • If Tallahassee doesn’t send the money, or the district claims that Tallahassee didn’t send enough money, you are not entitled to any increase in pay even if you were rated “highly effective.”
  • For veteran teachers, it looks like you will remain on whatever step you are currently on plus the salary adjustment. It looks like future salary adjustments will be calculated by a standard percentage, so all grandfathered employees might get a 3% adjustment in good years and a 1% or 0% adjustment in bad years.
  • If you are on performance pay, the most you will get will likely be approximately $3700 for highly effective and $1350 for effective. (I believe this is actually going to be lower and be based of the alphabet 1% schedule that the district proposed. Which would more likely be $1400- $700 for highly effective and $700-$400 for effective).
  • There is no guarantee that anybody will ever make it to the top of the salary schedule no matter how many years they work.

UTD seems to be under the impression that many younger teachers will do better under a merit pay system instead of our current step schedule. I can’t argue with that logic considering teachers with less than 20 years seem to have gotten raises from 0-$400 over the last decade and starting salary has stagnated at $40,000. But I’m an eternal skeptic, so I have a hard time believing that either the state or the district actually wants to spend more money on teacher salaries. I like to be an informed voter, so I asked UTD on Facebook to provide a sample of what a future salary schedule would like with an explanation of how it would work. So far I have received no response. But if you believe the district is not going to drastically decrease the number of highly effective teachers in the district now that they actually have to pay you more, I have a one bedroom condo in Brickell overlooking the parking garage and dumpster for $2 million to sell you.

Pay attention to the words of Broward’s Superintendent very closely regarding why only 5% of Broward teachers rated “highly effective.” I would anticipate the state follows his lead with a standard percentage of highly effective teachers for every district.

“He said in any large work population, about 10 to 15 percent will be outstanding, 10 to 15 percent need improvement and everyone else falls in between. Runcie said he expects state lawmakers will put more scrutiny on districts with large numbers of high evaluations.

“When you see a district with 40 or 50 percent highly effective, that defies the laws of statistics,” Runcie said. “We could lower the bar to make everyone feel good. But we’re trying to run a system to help people develop.”

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-broward-teacher-evaluations-20150821-story.html

Most teachers will be too busy preparing for the first week of school to ever read this blog or the contract they are being asked to vote on September 8th. But I leave you with one final thought, imagine if on the first day of school we told our students that only 10% of them will receive As and 10% of them must receive Fs no matter how hard they work. I don’t think that would go over very well with parents or administrators, but for some reason no one seems to have a problem with this stack ranking system being applied to teachers.

Happy opening of schools! Try to stay informed and upbeat next week. At least the kids still love and value us.

1-Percent-Sign

poor rich man

During recent contract negotiations between MDCPS and UTD, it looks likely that MDCPS employees will be joining the ranks of the one percent! No, not the kind of one percenters who work in Silicon Valley and bid $100,000 over asking price on $3 million 1500 square foot condos in San Francisco’s trendy Mission district. I’m talking about the kind one percenters who can look forward to earning a 1% raise for the duration of their careers. At a time when our Superintendent has declared ,“the recession is over,” our budget stands at $4.8 billion, we are rolling around so deeply in excess property tax funds that the board once again voted to cut the millage rate, and Daddy Warbucks has so much cash to throw around that he’s blinging out school buses with Wi-Fi, the district’s negotiating team pegs your commitment and experience to a perpetual value of 1%. (Click this link to see the proposed salary chart brought forth by MDCPS http://www.utd.org/file_download/1963/Salary+Schedule++differential+Equalization.pdf

No one who has seen this chart has been able to make much sense out of it, but it is clear that MDCPS views your worth as 1% for the entirety of your career. And what a long career that is going to be if you plan on ever hitting the top of the pay scale! For some reason, MDCPS has replaced numeric steps with the alphabet. One would have to go through the alphabet over two times in order to reach the top of the pay scale! Perhaps MDCPS views its teachers’ intelligence as highly as it does their economic worth. Did they think replacing numbers with letters would trick teachers into not realizing it would take multiple lifetimes to reach the top of the pay scale? I may have only scored in the 75 percentile on my SAT math (clearly unworthy of the $10,000 Best and Brightest scholarship) but even I can solve this equation: 26 x 2 + 4 = 56 years!

When it comes to addressing the media our Superintendent paints a rosy picture of the MDCPS budget, but when it comes to the negotiating table, we hear the same tired excuses: the property appraiser’s failure to collect $38.1 million, Tallahassee underfunded the district by $13 million, and the most played out excuse of all time “increasing health insurance costs.” And for some reason, you dear teachers, are the only part of the budget that needs to suffer as a consequence of a failure to collect property taxes, a failure to accurately project student enrollment, and a failed health care contract that promised to save teachers money but has only given them mandatory annual physicals which involve fasting, mail order prescriptions, and ever increasing co-pays. But don’t forget last year’s contract highlight- free prostate exams for all!

Despite the ever-increasing cost of living in Miami, your hopes of a decent salary increase seem to be ever-decreasing. According to a recent article in the Miami New Times:

“Rent prices in Miami are out of control, but not all neighborhoods are as bad as others. You can still find affordable rents in places like Liberty City and Gladeview. Looking anywhere else? Well, you better be making at least $55,000 a year. “ http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/heres-a-map-of-the-median-rents-in-each-miami-neighborhood-7753207

I guess 15,000 MDCPS employees are SOL then. According to figures presented by MDCPS at the latest round of contract negotiations, 15,000 teachers are making between $40,000-$54,999. According to Zumper, it looks likes it’s only going to get worse.

“By the way, Zumper found that rents jumped in Miami 1.6 percent in the past month alone and 7.4 percent in the past quarter. The median price for a one-bedroom apartment throughout the city is now $1,880, which ties Miami with Chicago as the sixth most expensive market in the nation.

Using the old rule of thumb that your housing cost should represent about a third of your monthly income, that would mean you’d have to make at least $67,680 a year to afford the median rent for a one-bedroom in Miami.”

http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/heres-a-map-of-the-median-rents-in-each-miami-neighborhood-7753207

But not to worry MDCPS employees, the mayor of Aventura, who negotiates on behalf of the district during her spare time, declared that there has been 0% inflation over the past few years at the latest round of negotiations (according to individuals who were present in the room). Despite having a husband who works in real estate, the mayor seems keenly unaware that property values and rents in Miami Dade have skyrocketed in the last three years. I hope she doesn’t make such blind blanket statements during city commissioner meetings, “Aventura has no traffic. What are people complaining about?” Hopefully, UTD does not mistake the mayor of Aventura for Alan Greenspan and can counter with some actual government statistics.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a teacher making $40,000 in 2007 would need to be making at least $46,000 just to keep up with the rate of inflation. http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm. Keep in mind that the federal government purposely projects a lower rate of inflation than actually exits so they don’t have to raise social security payments http://www.forbes.com/fdc/welcome_mjx.shtml Because unlike MDCPS, the federal government still believes in something known as a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment).

Now let’s compound the rate of inflation with the rapidly increasing cost of living in Miami compared to teacher salaries in another major city also located in a right to work state with a Republican legislature. In Atlanta, beginning teachers make almost $45,000. If you factor in cost of living, beginning teachers in Miami should be making at least $50,000. http://money.cnn.com/calculator/pf/cost-of-living/

Most teachers have lost faith in UTD’s ability to negotiate much of anything. Rank and file UTD members have joined together and hand-submitted pages of reasonable proposals to UTD and have thus far been completely ignored. Some of their proposals include:

  1. Salary
    1. Make Permanent and Automatic: Cost-of-Living Adjustment, Annual Step Increases and Negotiation Agreements Retroactive to the End of Previous Contract Negotiated
      1. A Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA adjustment) is not a raise.  It is a common tool used in the post-WWII era to recognize that if wages don’t keep up with inflation, then they are actually decreasing in real terms.
      2. Annual Step Increases for all M-DCPS teachers should be made permanent and automatic according to a published scale. No more “annualized stipend” language and random bonuses. Both can be taken away if the district claims lack of funding and both do not lead to an accruing salary which impacts retirement as well as a teacher’s ability to purchase a home.
      3. Provide that all contract negotiations are retroactive to end of the previous contract.         Without retroactive pay, the district uses stall tactics as a cost savings strategy. Every year we wait until December to finalize a contract without retroactive pay saves the district $15 million since they are only paying half a step increase. Even Broward managed to negotiate retroactive pay in their last contract.

2) Benefits

  1.  Maintain No-Cost Option and Lower Current Healthcare Costs for M-DCPS Employees with Dependents and Adjust Healthcare Bands to Avoid Salary Regression
  2.  Maintain No-Cost Option and Lower Current Healthcare Costs for M-DCPS Employees with Dependents.  Miami-Dade County has over 40,000 employees.  Around 30,000 of those employees are within the UTD bargaining unit.  We have the numbers and leverage to have the most cost-effective health insurance in the State.  Despite constant claims of the effect of medical insurance fraud and rising healthcare costs, the size of our bargaining unit should be enough to maintain the no-cost option and to reduce dependent coverage premiums and fees.
  3.  Due to a poor design in healthcare bands, some employees with dependents actually make less than their counterparts at lower salary steps with the same dependent coverage due to jumps in cost between bands.  This needs to be fixed to avoid compensation regression over time.

3) Class Size-

  1. a) District-Level Negotiations on Overall Class Size to 130 Students Per Teacher at the Start of the Year and No more than 150 Throughout the Year.
  2. b) District Level Negotiation for Core Level Classes to Three Students under the Florida State Maximum at the Beginning of the year and Never Exceeding the Cap Through the Year/ For Non-Core Classes Set District Level Max of only 5 Students Higher than Core Classes for Beginning and Throughout
  3. c) Close the Loophole Which Allows Inclusion Teachers to be Double-Coded as Inclusion and Co-teachers.

Many districts negotiate class size caps as part of their contract language. This is common practice and had it been done across Florida, there would have been no need for the Class Size Amendment. If we add class size caps to our contract language, it won’t matter what nefarious adjustments Tallahassee makes to undermine the class size amendment. Maybe the district can’t afford to keep all classes at 25 students, but they can surely afford to set reasonable limits for both academic and elective courses. Right now it’s a class size free-for-all and there is nothing to protect individual classroom teachers from having 50 students in a room or a student load of over 200 students. We must impose some sort of class size caps as part of our contract language in order to protect our teachers and students against outrageous classroom conditions and student loads.

We’ll see if any of the Rank and File’s proposals make it into the final contract, but it’s going to take a mass movement of MDCPS employees to make it happen. If complacency persists, MDCPS employees can look forward to being one percenters for the duration of their careers. Welcome to back to school MDCPS employees and welcome to the one percent!

wall-street-2-006

Education reformers have been arguing that schools should be run more like businesses for years. Policies like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top focused on competition between schools and teachers. State after state has ditched teacher tenure and replaced it with performance pay (actually, they got rid of the job security but most teachers have yet to be paid for performance). Now, with hair-brained policies like Florida’s Best and Brightest Scholarship we have entered a Brave New World of education reform and employee compensation, a world where only top test-takers are entitled to a bonus. Let’s apply the fundamentals of Erik Fresen’s Best and Brightest Scholarship program to the business world for a moment and see how that would work.

Setting: (shiny corporate office building in New York’s financial district)

CEO of Gordon Geiko Financial Services: “Gentlemen, I’ve brought you both into my office to discuss this year’s bonus payouts.”

Jeff and Jordon, both seasoned financial executives, exchange smiles.

CEO: “Times are tough in the financial world these days. I don’t have enough money to give you both bonuses so I’ve decided to only give a bonus to Jeff this year because his SAT scores were higher.”

Jordon: “But that’s crazy! I took my SAT 25 years ago and I was stoned at the time! I outperformed Jeff! I made $200,000 for this company last year and he only made $100,000. Why does Jeff get a bonus and I don’t? That’s crazy!”

CEO: “Sorry, Jordon. Life’s not fair. People with high SAT scores just have more potential to be a top earner one day.”

Jordon runs out of the room in a rage. Jeff runs after him. They’ve been drinking buddies for years. He doesn’t want the CEO’s decision to ruin their friendship.

Jordon punches the wall in the restroom. “I can’t believe this crap! Never in my life did I think my SAT scores would count for anything more than what college I got into. My parents couldn’t afford SAT tutoring or an expensive out of state college so I didn’t even try knowing I would end up at a state school anyway.”

Jeff: “I’m sorry man. This is crazy. Drinks on me.”

Chip, a young fresh-faced intern who started two days ago at the company, walks into the bathroom smiling.

Jordon: “What are you so happy about?”

Chip: “I just found out I’m going to make an extra $10,000 this year because my SAT scores were so high! Isn’t that awesome?”

Jordon and Jeff look at each other enraged. They immediately take Chip’s head and shove it in the toilet.

Jordon storms out of the bathroom, clears all of his belongings off of his desk, and tells the CEO he can stick his SAT scores where the sun the doesn’t shine.

Time will tell how the estrogen-laden teaching profession will react to Florida’s Best and Brightest Scholarship program, but it would certainly never work on Wall Street.

homer simpson

I tend to be a little obsessive when a topic really outrages me and seems to defy all forms of reason (see my 1,000 blog posts about VAM). Compared to Florida’s Best and Brightest scholarship program, VAM seems almost logical and fair. All Florida teachers have a chance at winning the VAM lottery and you have to teach at least one year to be entered to win. With Florida’s Best and Brightest scholarship, some teachers will never be able to score in the top 80th percentile of the SAT, especially English and Social Studies teachers (who may have near perfect scores on the reading portion) but are incapable of breaking 600 on math. Every year I try to be optimistic and think to myself, “It can’t possibly get any worse or more absurd,” and yet every year it does.

Last legislative session seemed to go pretty well. There were laws passed to curb high stakes testing, VAM was reduced to 33% of a teacher’s evaluation, and the Legislature ran home early before they could do further harm. Then special session hit and teachers were slapped in the face with the “Best and Brightest” scholarship program out of nowhere. This little piece of legislation has been keeping me up at night and has completely destroyed my summer’s digital detox program. Last night while worrying about what dreadful legislation might be coming our way next, I imagined a conversation between Governor Rick Scott, Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, and Representative Erik Fresen. It went something like this:

Rebecca Fishman Lipsey: “Governor Scott, we are going to have to revise the Best and Brightest scholarship program. My TFA recruits are pissed. Apparently Florida teachers are smarter and better than we thought. Thousands more of them qualified for Best and Brightest than we anticipated. The $10,000 bonus ended up being a just little over $1,000.”

Erik Fresen: “Tell me about it. Half of the new hires at my brother in-law’s charter schools quit after they found out they would be making $9,000 less.”

Governor Rick Scott: “I can’t believe Florida teachers are that smart! How did they manage to even get their test scores? We knew that the College Board didn’t keep records prior to 1988. That should have excluded any teacher over the age of 45.”

Rebecca Fishman Lipsey: “Governor Scott, you don’t know teachers like I know teachers. Remember, unlike Erik and yourself, I was a teacher for a few years. Those people are hoarders! They have class sets of copies that are ten years old! They have maps hanging on their walls where Russia is still called the Soviet Union!”

Erik Fresen: “And it’s only going to get worse next year. You should see these old teachers lining up on Saturdays to sit for four hours to take the SAT and ACT alongside their 17 year-old students. Pathetic. Makes me almost feel sorry for them.”

Governor Rick Scott: “Looks like we’re going to have to revise the “Best and Brightest” scholarship program to make sure only the youngest teachers benefit. I’m not going to budget any additional money for “Best and Brightest.” If it get’s too large it’s going to be harder for me to claim I overlooked it when you sneak it in the budget at the last minute.”

Erik Fresen: “OK. So what sort of ridiculous new hurdle can we come up with that will discriminate against older teachers?”

Rebecca Fishman Lipsey: “Hurdles….hurdles…hmm…Let’s make them run a marathon! Only teachers that finish in the top 20 of a marathon can qualify! That will surely give my TFA recruits an advantage. Studies show that runners are more likely to be highly successful people.”

Erik Fresen: “Speaking of studies Rebecca, you still haven’t given me any concrete research that shows your teachers with high SAT scores produce more learning gains than other teachers. Reporters are asking for it and me citing that one book I didn’t even read isn’t working anymore. There was actually one study done in Miami Dade County that showed TFA recruits did not achieve higher test scores in reading and math than their counterparts. What if journalists get a hold of that report? http://oer.dadeschools.net/EvaluationMatters/TransmittalofEvaluationMattersTeachForAmericaAnAnalysisOfPlacementAndImpact.pdf

Rebecca Fishman Lipsey: “That’s why we need to shift the focus to physical fitness. It’ll fit in nicely with Michelle Obama’s healthier school lunch and fit kids campaign. How can our students be physically fit if their teachers are fat? They are setting a bad example. The future of our nation is at risk if we continue to let fat people teach our children.”

Governor Rick Scott: “Sounds good to me! Look how skinny I am! We’ll call it “Florida’s Fastest and Fittest” scholarship.”

We’ll have to wait and see what ridiculousness the Florida Legislature dreams up next. But don’t be surprised next spring if they ask you to run a marathon or produce a potty training certificate to be eligible for a raise in Florida.

teach-for-america-life-card-819x1024

In my last blog post I lambasted Representative Erik Fresen and Governor Rick Scott for their lame brained “Best and Brightest” Scholarship program which gives $10,000 bonuses for teachers based on their college entrance exam scores. Considering that the College Board has told several teachers that there are no percentile rankings available for tests taken prior to 2004, most teachers over 30 are going to have a hard time qualifying for the bonus. Perhaps a better name for Fresen’s law would be Florida’s “Youngest and Least Experienced” Scholarship?

One parent of a Teach for America participant called me out for disparaging Teach for America in my last bog. I actually spent most of my blog disparaging Erik Fresen and Rick Scott, but after doing a little research on Teach for America when she asked for data backing up my claim that Teach for America recruits don’t last long in the classroom, I found so much dirt on Teach for America that it merited an entire blog of disparaging them. Thanks for the inspiration TFA mom!

Is it a coincidence that the same year that Governor Rick Scott appoints Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, a Teach For America executive, to the State Board of Education that a ridiculous law giving large bonuses to teachers with high SAT/ACT scores, even though they may have never even stepped foot in a classroom, gets signed into law completely bypassing the legislative process?

According to a report from the National Center for Teacher Quality,

“Since its inception, TFA has placed a lot of weight on academic credentials. For instance, most of its teachers have graduated from selective colleges and have an average SAT score of 1,300, 261 points higher than the average SAT score of other aspiring teachers who pass the Praxis I, a basic skills test required of new teacher in most states.”

http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/Increasing_the_Odds_How_Good_Policies_Can_Yield_Better_Teachers_NCTQ_Report

Clearly, young Teach for America recruits are more likely to have SAT scores high enough to qualify for the “scholarship” and they will also be able to easily access those scores with a few clicks of a mouse on the College Board website. Meanwhile, the veteran old timers will have to pay the College Board $40 just for the hope that their archaic scores can be located. The College Board gives no guarantee that scores can be found and they would not even offer a time frame for locating them. I ordered mine a month ago and so far nothing.

If this were just about the “Best and Brightest” and rewarding teachers with high test scores, why were GRE scores not an option? Because Teach for America recruits don’t have any GRE scores. Teach for America is what you do to enhance your resume to get into graduate school and to help pay for graduate school once your two years of servitude are over. Teach for America recruits will be able to count on making an extra $10,000 for the duration of their service because A) they automatically get the bonus as a new hire B) they won’t have an evaluation to base the bonus on once they have served the first year. There is a nine month lag time in finalizing teacher evaluations because of VAM. So the Teach for America recruit can make an easy extra $20,000 before they run off to law school, become a TFA lobbyist in DC, or become principal of a charter school before they ever receive a finalized evaluation. A recent study by Mathematica concluded:

“More than 87 percent of TFA teachers say they don’t plan on remaining teachers throughout their careers, compared with 26.3 percent of non-TFA teachers working in the same subjects, grades, and schools, according to an analysis released last week by Mathematica Policy Research (PDF).”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-09/most-teach-for-america-instructors-plan-to-flee-teaching

The National Center for Teacher Quality (an organization who’s advisory board is filled with the likes of Michelle Rhee, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and charter school/hedge fund donation “no excuses” queen Eva Moscowitz) concludes that districts that seek to employ the high IQ master race teacher need to prepare for high teacher turnover:

“The findings on college selectivity lend further support to what is already a robust body of evidence indicating that teachers with strong academic credentials are more likely to produce greater student learning gains. However, districts which purposely recruit candidates with higher academic credentials may need to prepare for higher turnover rates, unless they also address those factors that cause those teachers who have the most other options to leave the classroom. http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/Increasing_the_Odds_How_Good_Policies_Can_Yield_Better_Teachers_NCTQ_Report

The report goes on to state:

“According to the National Center for Education Statistics, first- year teachers who scored in the top quartile on the SAT were twice as likely to leave teaching after five years as those who scored in the bottom quartile.

  • Similarly, Richard Murnane and others found that both beginning and experienced teachers with higher scores on a licensing examination were more likely to leave the profession. This was particularly true for white teachers. Murnane also found that teachers with higher IQ scores were more likely to leave teaching at the end of each year than those with low IQ scores.”

There seems to be very strong data to suggest that these high SAT score teachers are going to leave the profession in a very short amount of time. Which if you are the state of Florida doing everything possible to eradicate teacher pension plans, this a great human resource strategy! Bring in the brainiacs because we know they won’t last long enough to collect a pension! School districts will also enjoy the short teaching span of TFA recruits because they will have fewer health insurance costs, be young enough to have no children so they can devote hours to extra school activities and meetings, and think living with roommates is still cool!

So what about those amazing learning gains by the high IQ quick turnover TFA teacher types? Even the TFA/charter school advised National Center for Teacher Quality could not find very compelling data:

“A recent study from Mathematica Policy Research found that first and second year Teach For America teachers produced slightly higher math gains and equivalent reading gains as more experienced, traditionally certified teachers in the same schools.”

Wow! Slightly higher math scores and equivalent reading gains! Well that’s the sort of compelling data that should lead us to offer these master race teachers an extra $10,000!

Perhaps the real mastermind behind Florida’s “Best and Brightest” was Rebecca Fishman Lipsey? Erik Fresen may have been chosen to be the fall guy for the bill since he heads the Education Budget Committee and had the ability to sneak it in during special session. Charter schools also have a lot to gain from the Best and Brightest Scholarship program since they are hurting for teachers to work in their schools, which offer low salaries, no job security, and demanding hours. There is a strong link between TFA and the charter industry. If you watch this youtube video from a former TFA recruit trying to discourage other young people from joining TFA, she mentions that she received a ton of emails from charter schools asking her to come work in their schools once she finished her service because both TFA and charter schools shared a commitment to “excellence.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAKHHHDi8vE

We may never know whether Florida’s “Best and Brightest” Scholarship was designed primarily for Teach for America recruits or to assist in luring young grads to teach in Florida’s ever expanding charter school industry. We can conclude that you, veteran career teacher, be you “highly effective” or just “effective” were not the targeted recipient of this bill. The Florida legislature did not put any money in the 2014-15 budget to pay for the merit pay law it passed three years ago, back in the good ole’ days when all teachers needed was a “highly effective” evaluation to qualilfy.

erik fresen

rick scott

I try not to slander individuals in my blog or use specific names, but every once in a while, an individual does something so incredibly stupid and offensive that they merit public ridicule. Erik Fresen has long been a Florida public school teacher’s worst nightmare. He spear headed campaigns for merit pay, the end of tenure, and has close ties to the charter industry. Unlike other bone headed anti-teacher legislation to come out of Tallahassee, there are only two specific people to blame for the fact that $44 million tax payer dollars will be wasted rewarding teachers for their high school college entrance exam scores- Erik Fresen who came up with the idea, and Governor Rick Scott, who helped sign it into law during a special budget session without any public debate or legislative approval because even members of Erik Fresen’s own party thought it was a stupid idea.

“State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, called the legislation the “worst bill of the year” and an example of how the legislative process has broken down, the Herald-Tribune’s Zac Anderson reported.”

“The bill went through absolutely no process,” Detert said. “Never got a hearing in the Senate. We refused to hear it because it’s stupid.”

State Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, agreed. Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, blamed Gov. Rick Scott. “If the governor felt so good about vetoing not-for-profit health-care clinics and Manatee Glens,” he said, “why the hell didn’t he veto that line item?”

Fresen, who told other legislators that “multiple studies indicate students learn more from teachers who achieved high SAT or ACT scores” and that such teachers should be rewarded, has no regrets.”

http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20150721/opinion/150729958

The story for how Erik Fresen came up with this ludicrous idea goes something like this:

“About two years ago, state Rep. Erik Fresen picked up Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World to read on the plane.

The Miami Republican had no inkling at the time that the book, an investigation into student performance, would end up driving a controversial $44 million line item in Florida’s 2015-16 budget.

But as he plowed through it, Fresen found a common denominator among nations with top academic performance: well-paid teachers with high aptitudes. So he proposed Florida’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarships, worth as much as $10,000 each.” http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/teachers/questions-abound-for-new-program-that-rewards-teachers-based-on-sat-and/2235316

A more likely scenario in which this moronic scheme was dreamed up in order to bilk the Florida tax payer of $44 million in order to benefit Teach for America and lure graduates to work in Florida charter schools was a family dinner on Erik Fresen’s brother- in- law’s yacht on the way to a charter school convention in the Bahamas. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/special-reports/cashing-in-on-kids/article1939208.html The conversation may have gone as follows:

Erik Fresen: “Nice yacht Sis’! Looks like the charter school industry is treating you guys pretty well.”

Maggie Zuleta (Fresen’s sister): “Bro, I can’t thank you enough for promoting the unregulated growth of charter schools in Florida up in Tallahassee!”

Fernando Zuleta (Fresen’s brother-in-law): “Si, hermano, the charter school business is fantastico! Who knew educating children could be so profitable? There is only one small problem. We are expanding faster than we can actually staff our schools. The rent in Miami is muy caro these days and not many top graduates want to come to Miami to work for $40,000.”

Erik Fresen: “Why don’t you just offer to pay them more?”

Fernando Zuleta: “I can see why your brother became a politician instead of a businessman Maggie. Because if I offer to pay them more, my profits will be reduced. Educating children is more expensive than I thought. If only there was some other way to pay my teachers more money without using any of my own money…..Maybe we can find a way for Florida tax payers to fund a giant pay increase to attract teachers for my schools?”

Erik Fresen: “I’m not sure there is a way to specifically fund a pay increases for charter school teachers.”

Fernando Zuleta: “Perhaps we can create a new law that makes the money based on some ridiculous criteria that new hires are more likely to benefit from than veterans?”

Fernando Zuleta pauses to drink some champagne and eat a few bites of caviar.

“I want to attract the best and brightest to teach in Academica schools. Parents are not impressed with my teachers’ bachelor’s degrees coming from Miami Dade Community College. If I could advertise some Harvard and Yale graduates on my staff that would really help to attract a different demographic to my schools and keep test scores high.”

Erik Fresen: “Why don’t we make the qualifying criteria SAT and ACT scores? You have to be in the top 20th percentile to get into schools like Yale and Harvard. The Florida Legislature loves test scores!”

Maggie Zuleta: “Brother you are so smart! Make the bonus $10,000. That will attract a lot top graduates to work in our schools!”

Erik Fresen: “Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, the new Teach for America executive appointed by Governor Scott to the State Board of Education will be thrilled with the idea! http://www.flgov.com/governor-rick-scott-appoints-rebecca-fishman-lipsey-to-the-state-board-of-education-2/

The Superintendent of Miami Dade Schools will probably be happy too since they rely on a large contract with TFA to fill some of their undesirable positions.”

Fernando Zuleta: “What about potential lawsuits from veteran teachers and the teachers’ union?”

Erik Fresen: “Don’t worry, the teachers’ unions will never do anything and individual teachers won’t have enough money to pay a lawyer to file a suit. Just to be fair, we’ll let veteran teachers apply for the money as long as they have a highly effective evaluation. Most older teachers won’t be able to find their test scores anyway.”

Fernando Zuleta: “Hermano, teachers are desperate for cash and will do anything for a raise. I’m sure some of them will even try to retake the SAT and ACT to get a higher score to qualify for the raise. We must make sure that doesn’t happen. The Florida Legislature will never fund a large bonus for a large quantity of teachers.”

Maggie Zuleta: “No problem mi amor. I’ll just ask Siri on my new Iphone 6 when the next SAT administration is and we’ll make sure the deadline to apply is before the next test date. Siri, when is the next SAT administration?”

Siri: “The next SAT administration is Oct. 3rd.”

Erik Fresen: “Perfect! We can make the deadline to apply Oct. 1st.”

Fernando Zuleta: “Do you think we can get this law passed in Tallahassee?”

Erik Fresen: Maybe. Maybe not. It wouldn’t be the first bone-headed mean-spirited law passed by the Florida Legislature against teachers. If it doesn’t look like it will pass, there is always another way to get a bad law passed in Tallahassee. The Governor and I are golfing buddies.

Erik Fresen and Fernando Zuleta share a sinister laugh…

Although the above conversation never took place, I wouldn’t be surprised if a very similar one did. Erik Fresen didn’t just decide to make it rain on Florida teachers for no good reason. And it certainly wasn’t because he read a book. Even if he did read a book to come up with this scheme, that doesn’t mean it should become law. Education reformers are always saying they read some book when they dream up these horrific pieces of legislation. Then they go on to say “research shows blah, blah, blah” without ever quoting any actual research. At least when Bill Gates comes up with some cockamamey idea to save American schools, he spends his own money on those bad ideas. Erik Fresen is spending Florida tax payer money on his bad idea with Rick Scott’s approval. Every other person in Florida has been left out of the conversation. Every Florida voter who voted twice in favor of a class size amendment that the legislature has refused to fund because it would be “too expensive” should be outraged that $44 million is being wasted on the idea that a single test that a teacher took twenty years ago should determine whether or not they get a bonus. Talk about high stakes testing! I can’t wait to tell my students that when they sit down to take the SAT it is not only determining what college they get into but whether or not they get a raise twenty years down the road. The SATs are a horrible test to base anything on and many colleges are now eliminating SAT scores as an entrance requirement http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/28/us/george-washington-university-drops-sat-and-act-scores-for-applicants.html?_r=0.

There is good reason to reject SAT scores as a means for determining anything as minorities and women tend to score lower on the exam. If Erik Fresen made a law that only gave bonuses to rich White and Asian males the ACLU lawyers would be lining up in Tallahassee.  That is essentially what he is doing by using SAT and ACT scores as the sole qualifier for a $10,000 bonus. Even if the test wasn’t biased in favor of certain races and those who can pay $500 for a Kaplan test prep course, the entire notion that only those of a certain intelligence level should be entitled to a high income is disgusting and harks back to the Eugenics movement at the turn of the century.

http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012046/figures/figure_24-2.asp?refer=list

Most veteran teachers feel deeply insulted that their test scores from 30 years ago will determine whether or not they qualify for a bonus. Thanks to Erik Fresen and Governor Rick Scott you will have TFA newbies who have never proven themselves in the classroom making $10,000 more than 12 year veterans who have received top marks on their evaluations and who have never received more than a $500 raise. Then you may have other veteran teachers who actually have records of high SAT/ACT scores get denied the raise because of a low VAM score. It’s no coincidence that the Florida Department of Education is stepping in this year to issue statewide VAMs for teachers who have tested subjects. Previously, the district would negotiate with the union to determine cut scores for rankings. Last year 35% of teachers in Dade received a highly effective VAM rating but next year the state is projected to cut highly effective VAM ratings to 17%.

If you are a veteran teacher with an ACT composite score in the top 20th percentile or you have both math and reading SAT scores in the top 20th percentiles, go ahead and apply for a Florida Best and Brightest Scholarship. The more teachers who qualify, the smaller the hiring bonuses will be for the Teach For Awhile newbies. Specific guidelines from the state can be found in this article http://touch.sun-sentinel.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-84085400/

If you do not have your test scores handy (which you probably don’t unless you have severe hoarding issues) you need to call the College Board ASAP with credit card in hand for a chance at winning the $10,000 scholarship (why is this being called a “scholarsip” anyway? The definition of a scholarship is money given to a student based on merit to pursue an education). The College Board may or may not be able to find your scores and there is no guarantee they will get them to you by Oct. 1st but they will charge you $30 for trying. I called and ordered mine three weeks ago and have not heard anything back yet.

Some readers may be outraged that I would actually apply for this asinine piece of legislation but I don’t agree. Remember Erik Fresen and Rick Scott did not sign this into law to benefit veteran teachers. They would like nothing more than for veteran teachers to be too proud to jump through such ridiculous hoops for a raise. That would ensure the TFA teachers a full $10,000. If more than 4,400 teachers qualify the amount will be reduced accordingly. So go ahead and apply Florida veterans! Your odds are probably better than winning the lottery and the opportunity for a quick ten geez will probably never be presented to this many of you again.

Outraged teachers and citizens would be better off directing their anger at the two main culprits, Erik Fresen and Rick Scott. Send them letters, emails, and call them on the phone letting them know exactly what you think of their “Best and Brightest” scam. Write letters to the editors in newspapers and get journalists to expose this fraud so they get the public shaming they deserve. That’s why I wrote this blog.

Robust bus

Is the latest corporate education reform buzzword “robust”? Is “robust” the new “rigor”? Or perhaps it is replacing last year’s educational lingo darling “grit”? Maybe it is the perfect fusion of both “rigor” and “grit.” Combining the vigor of “rigor” with the resiliency of “grit.”

Ro-bust

rōˈbəst,ˈrōˌbəst/

adjective

  1. strong and healthy; vigorous.
  2. (of an object) sturdy in construction.
  3. (of a process, system, organization, etc.) able to withstand or overcome adverse conditions.

I don’t know why, but in the last two weeks every time I turn on MSNBC, watch the evening news, read an article in Edweek, or hear a statement from a politician or superintendent, the word “robust” is busting out all over the place. Personally, I feel that the word “robust” should only be used if you’re describing something along the lines of an Ethiopian coffee or maybe an Argentinian cabernet. The Ed Tech community seems particularly enthralled with the word “robust.” After the last month, when I found out that two of the major educational software platforms that I spent the last year learning and using (Thinkgate and My Big Campus) were kaput, I can see why the Ed Tech community is fond of the word “robust.” If I am going to bother spending my time learning another software application, I truly hope it will be robust and lasts longer than one school year. With the constant flux in the Ed Tech start up community, is it any wonder that teachers are reluctant to embrace technology? http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/06/11/why-ed-tech-is-not-transforming-how.html?tkn=NVVF31Hjp2cB1IjTP1uxp1O9W0MKiSCk7KGG&intc=es

Educators in Florida and across the nation are now experiencing the joys (sarcasm) of using “My Learning Plan” to register and complete their professional development. It is such a convoluted software program that most educators will need to attend a professional development session just to learn how to register for a PD. Miami-Dade County had their own online PD registration system that seemed to be working just fine until the state decided to audit the program and found out that “gasp” teachers were not applying what they learned at the PD in their classroom. So in the name of “accountability” teachers must now submit four items to be worthy of their master plan points when once upon a time all we had to do was initial a sign in sheet. You must create a “Smart goal” and report back to My Learning Plan after fourteen days about how you achieved your goal. Clearly this software was not designed by an educator and they didn’t factor in that many teachers choose to complete their PD during the summer and won’t have contact with their students for months.

God forbid My Learning Plan goes the way of Thinkgate and implodes overnight taking all of our master plan points with them! Given that the state has never bothered to conduct an audit on district compliance of the class size amendment, would I be too much of conspiracist to believe that the Department of Education only conducts audits of district procedures when lucrative government contracts might be awarded as a result?

cadillac-288x300

When Miami-Dade County teachers logged on to their employee portals this week they were greeted by some shockingly high numbers from the district regarding their “total compensation.”  Teachers may think their $42,000 salaries after twelve years of service aren’t so hot, but once the district starts throwing in your paid sick leave, retirement, disability and health insurance, some teachers saw their “total compensation” sky rocket to almost six figures! Are the district’s total compensation statements a subtle attempt to quell teacher dissent over stagnant wages that are not keeping up with inflation, or are they a bureaucratic necessity with the 2018 Obamacare “Cadillac Tax” apocalypse looming around the corner? http://www.politico.com/story/2015/04/obamacare-health-care-cadillac-tax-116659.html

It is probably a mixture of both. The Obamacare tax penalty on luxurious “Cadillac” health insurance plans has been repeatedly postponed due to major elections and is now conveniently scheduled to begin in 2018 (two years after the next Presidential election when the Democrats are going to need the support of the unions who are unhappy with the tax). Many Miami-Dade County health insurance plans might currently be exempt from the tax, but if health care costs continue to skyrocket, teachers may soon find themselves in the driver’s seat of a “Cadillac” health insurance plan and the district may be forced to pay a 40% excise tax on each plan. Right now, your total compensation statement is probably citing a figure close to $7900 for individual plans ((funny how I only receive $1200 for opting out of the district’s plan) and $17,000 for dependents. If those figures continue to rise and surpass $10,000 for individuals and $27,000 for families, the district will have to pay a 40% tax for every dollar in health insurance benefits above those set amounts. Keep in mind that the cost of the health care plan is calculated by adding what the district pays and what the teacher pays, so the actual cost of insurance plans for a teacher that insures their family would be: $7,632.00 (district cost for individual plan) + $16,620 (district cost to insure dependents) + $5,676.00 (employee cost to insure dependents) = $29,928 (this amount would incur a 40% excise tax in 2018). http://64c251798550cb41e6d3-daba500433b2b7e227189b8e356c5f8e.r74.cf2.rackcdn.com/dl/cadillac-tax-essential-planning-guide.pdf From experience we know that if the district get’s hammered by the Cadillac tax, it’s the teachers that will get nailed in the end.

This leads me to question if teachers would be better off if the union did not bargain for health insurance benefits and let teachers fend for themselves on the Obamacare markets? Will the “Cadillac” tax become another excuse for not giving teachers their step increases? As a teacher who opts out of the district health insurance options, it is frustrating to hear every year that raises could not be offered because health insurance costs keep rising.  The union may come back defeated from the bargaining table when it comes to salary increases, but they always get to claim that they have maintained a zero cost health insurance plan. Since I don’t use the district health insurance, this leaves me asking the union “So what you got for me?” And for those who do use the district’s health insurance plans, once those benefits turn into a tax burden, are they really worth maintaining?

A recent article in Forbes magazine claims that union plans will be hardest hit by the Cadillac tax and unions may wish they hadn’t negotiated such luxurious plans on behalf of their members:

“In reality, it seems likely to primarily hit union plans. Unions that have negotiated for generous health benefits may now wish they hadn’t. Across the board, the Cadillac tax puts pressure on employers to offer less-generous health insurance plans. The 40% tax is imposed on the cost of individual health plans above $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for family coverage. The tax applies at a 40% rate on every dollar above those thresholds.” http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwood/2015/04/07/obamacare-40-cadillac-tax-hits-no-frills-plans-too-like-your-plan-keep-your-plan/

Because the Miami-Dade County school district and the union are currently negotiating a three year contract, they must be especially careful of the 2018 Cadillac tax penalty when negotiating health insurance plans. In the Northeast, where health care costs are high and  already fall under the Cadillac tax threshold, School Boards are increasingly becoming aware of the problem:

“Duquette said she spends every weeknight making presentations to school boards and municipal officials who are becoming aware of the tax. It doesn’t take effect until 2018, but employers adopting multiyear contracts with their employees may find themselves running up against the deadline, she said.” http://www.concordmonitor.com/news/nation/world/14133818-95/health-plan-cadillac-tax-frustrates-government-employers

Because the public sector and unions seem to be particularly slow to change entrenched policies (unless offered millions to do so by the DOE and Bill Gates, see also “Race to the Top”), one would hope a catastrophic collision with the Cadillac tax could be avoided if we start planning for it in advance.

“While employers in the private, non-unionized sector have already begun changing their employee benefits plans to circumvent the tax, unionized school districts may be limited by language in their collective bargaining agreements.” http://www.nyssba.org/news/2014/05/09/on-board-online-may-12-2014/cadillac-tax-to-be-bargaining-issue/

Time will tell if Obamacare ends up being beneficial or harmful to teachers in the end, but if Race to the Top is any indication, teachers beware.

 student cellphones

Last week I collected the district issued devices (not all of them, $12,000 worth of devices and accessories is still unaccounted for). Now I can proudly say, “I survived a year in a digital classroom!” It was not an easy year. Much like my first year of teaching, it was a year full of mistakes. Some of the mistakes were my own, many of them were on the part of my district over which I had no control. Since teachers were not given much of any opportunity to provide feedback about their experiences to the district officials in charge of implementing the one to one device pilot program, I will use my blog to outline some potential pitfalls in case the superintendent of technology decides to do a Google search one day.

Mistakes at the District Level

  1. Get over your Techie-Santa complex. You are not some sort of saint for deciding to waste millions giving every student in your district a device. Many students already had their own devices but decided to take a district device because they didn’t want to risk bringing their own to school for fear of it being stolen. I collected many a dust covered district issued tablet and unopened boxes that students proudly declared, “This was under my bed all year” or “I never touched the thing.” Which brings me to mistake number 2.
  2. If you do want to bestow devices upon students, pick something that is lightweight, easy to use, and the only accessory they receive is a charger. Most students decided it was easier to just work off of their smartphones rather than bring a tablet, a dongle, a stand, and a keyboard. The district spent $179 on a rubberized case that was so bulky and ugly most students decided to rip it off at the first chance. When some students heard the rumor that it could be dropped from 20 feet and not break, they decided to try it out for themselves. Some tablets survived, some did not. Luckily no innocent bystanders were hurt. Imagine the lawsuit that would have resulted if someone were killed by a district issued tablet that some stoned fourteen year old boy threw off his balcony thinking it was funny? Speaking of lawsuits, let’s jump to mistake number 3.
  3. Not all parents want their children to have their own devices. Even Google executives send their kids to schools where technology is banned.

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html At my school alone we had several incidents with angry parents coming into complain that their fourteen year old daughter had gotten on a social media site with the tablet and posted semi-naked selfies. All it takes is one angry parent with a law degree to cost the district millions in legal fees. Not to mention all of the angry parents that are about to come into schools once they find out their little darling lost $738 worth of technology. You are not helping low income students cross the digital divide if they end up being saddled with debt because they lost an overpriced district issued device. Our district has a very transient student population and many of those tablets ended up somewhere in Guatemala when the students moved back to their native country or to a different state. Just give your teachers a class set of tablets instead. That way you can eliminate potential lawsuits from parents that did not appreciate Techie-Santa visiting their homes and teachers don’t have to depend on their students to bring in a charged device to give the day’s lesson.

  1. For the love of God and future generations to come, DO NOT IMPLEMENT YOUR DEVICE PROGRAM UNTIL YOU HAVE A SERVER THAT WILL ALLOW TEACHERS TO CONTROL THEIR STUDENTS’ INTERNET ACCESS! Though some in the tech industry will argue in favor of “empowering” students by allowing them unfiltered access to the Internet, having spent the last year trying to teach World History to low level students with unrestricted Internet access I can tell you this is a terrible idea. CNN can also confirm my observations with student test data that showed students performed worse on standardized tests if smartphone bans were lifted, especially already low achieving students http://money.cnn.com/2015/05/18/technology/smartphones-schools-ban/index.html?category=home

Let’s face it, a fourteen year old boy is a fourteen year old boy and if you give him a chapter to read about Islamic Caliphates in one hand and a photo of Nicki Minaj in a thong in the other hand, chances are he is going to be more focused on Nicki’s behind. That is essentially the learning environment you have created when you disempower teachers from being able to control their students’ gaze with unrestricted Internet access. Maybe I am a failed educator, but I do not want to compete with the Kylie Jenner lip challenge or Wacka Flacka’s presidential campaign for my students’ attention.

  1. Districts need to provide paid training to educators to teach them how to use technology in the classroom effectively and to get them excited about teaching in a whole new way. Teaching in a digital classroom is an entirely different experience and it can either be liberating for an educator or it can make them want to retire twenty years early.

Let’s move on to some of my mistakes during my first year in a digital classroom so the rest of you can hopefully avoid my frustrations and premature gray hairs.

My Mistakes

  1. Allowing students to use smartphones. Since many of my students failed to bring their tablets to class or brought an uncharged tablet or complained that they could work faster off of their smartphones, I allowed them to use their phones. Once their smartphones came out it was nearly impossible to tell if they were texting, playing video games, taking selfie’s, taking pictures up my skirt (see “Female Teachers Beware the Low Snap” blog post https://kafkateach.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/female-teachers-beware-the-low-snap/) or actually working on an assignment. Once students felt entitled to have their cellphones out it became nearly impossible to take them away if you caught them goofing off. I have never had to call security into my classroom so many times because a student would not hand over a phone. One student actually pushed my arm away and quite a few others called me the B word for taking their phones. Something about allowing students to use their smartphones just breeds disrespect. On a similar note…
  2. Allowing your students to use headphones. I thought the headphones could come in handy if students were researching educational youtube videos or I wanted them to watch a video and answer questions at their own pace. Initially, I didn’t even mind if they used their headphones to listen to music while they worked independently. But for every student that knows how to use headphones responsibly, there are five that don’t. They come into class with the headphones on and refuse to take them off. You ask them to remove their headphones when you are giving instructions, other students are presenting, or you want them to watch a video clip and they reply with some stupid comment like “But I wasn’t even listening to anything” or they give you attitude like “How can anything you have to say be more important than me listening to Tupac?” Not to mention that the incessant noise created by students who blast their music is maddening and disrupts other students.
  3. Allowing student Hunchback of Notredome syndrome.  It took me forever to learn my students’ names this year because they were constantly hunched over and all I saw was the tops of their heads. I miss seeing my students’ faces. Make your students use a propped up device where you can easily see the screen. When using a flat lying tablet or smartphone in between their legs, I would have to be a bald eagle constantly hovering over them from above to actually monitor what they were doing on their devices.

Despite all of the problems I experienced my first year in the digital classroom, there are too many positives for me to want to ditch technology altogether. I loved going paperless and feel if other teachers did the same we might be able to save the district money and the devices would eventually pay for themselves. Every time I had to use paper because the Wi-Fi was down or I had a substitute I hated the mess it created with papers all over the floor, papers needing to be filed, and a fresh set of copies destroyed. Even though I felt guilty writing bills for lost devices and accessories, the average textbook obligation is $90 and if the students lost a textbook for all eight classes it would have cost the same money as a tablet. The ability to access educational videos on youtube, charts, political cartoons, articles, and documents all for free on the Internet without making a single trip to the copier is too good to pass up. And even though our online testing vendor went out of business a month before the end of the school year and took all of our tests and student data with them (see Thinkgate blog, https://kafkateach.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/thinkgate-think-again-how-the-collapse-of-an-online-testing-company-might-forecast-the-bursting-of-the-ed-tech-bubble/ ), I still prefer administering tests online to paper copies and scantrons. Another fun thing about the digital classroom is being able to get fast student feedback from surveys. I gave my students a survey about their experience in a digital classroom this year and most of them were positive about the experience despite their many complaints about the particular device distributed by the district. Here is what one student had to say about the district tablets:

“The tablet they, being the school, has assigned us are complete and utter trash, not to mention the Internet itself in this school. Here is a suggestion, instead of wasting money on broken tablets, use the money to improve the already broken computers or improve the bandwidth. Also, instead of using Microsoft’s completely trash tablets, the school could get iPads or something of the sort. Unfortunately the school district is owned by Microsoft, and is leeching money from students if they break these $100 tablets by making them pay $600-$800. In conclusion the tablets had too much security and blocks almost everything, some even for curricular purposes, the tablet is complete and utter trash and is a waste of school funding that could have been used for something actually “useful”.”

So the students all hated the district tablet, but 75% were in favor of using devices in the classroom and 65% preferred using a device over paper. Only 30% actually wanted the responsibility of being given a tablet to be take home and bring to school everyday. Here is a typical student’s comment about bringing the tablets to school, “I didn’t like the fact that we had to take the tablets home. It made my book bag heavier than it already was. Besides no one ended up using them anyway. Everyone ended up using their cellphones to get the work done because it’s faster.”

But there were other students that didn’t have phones and they found the tablet very helpful, “This year, I didn’t have a phone, so I was using the tablet almost for everything (from school), and that helped me a lot for GOOGLE TRANSLATE and others stuff like that. But I disliked the tablet’s weight, for me who was coming with that everyday to school, it wasn’t easy to carry. So if we can have an other kind of tablet next year, it gonna be really cool for me. Sincerely, the tablet helped me this year, unlike others who don’t really care.”

I loved the fact that this ESOL student from the Ivory Coast embraced the tablet and Google translate! Devices and the Internet should surely be able to help our ESOL students even if many of them refused to use Google translate and used their devices to watch La Liga soccer games instead.

So while it’s becoming more and more evident that the digital classroom comes with its own set of pitfalls and challenges, and technology is surely not the educational panacea that some have tried to spin it as

http://www.straight.com/life/452561/teachers-using-pens-and-paper-classroom-not-fair-students-microsoft-official-says

http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-11-11/the-false-promise-of-classroom-technology

overall, the digital classroom is here to stay.   Hopefully we can learn to embrace the best of our teacher techie tools without being swallowed by an Internet bonanza that leads to an atmosphere of total tech distraction.

Have you survived a year in the digital classroom? Please share your experiences (good or bad) in the commenting section below.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 90 other followers