fail

As predicted, the new computer based Florida Standards Assessment failed its first test this week when thousands of Florida students attempted to log on to the writing exam at the same time. Florida superintendents warned the Florida Department of Education that the tests were not ready for primetime but state Education Commisioner Pam Stewart (a woman who’s never met a test she didn’t like) forged forward with the new exams without hesitation.  The American Institutes for Research blamed a software glitch. http://touch.orlandosentinel.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-82959562/

Why would anyone think it was a good idea to award the same company (oops, “nonprofit”) that designed Florida’s VAM with a multimillion dollar standardized testing contract? Let me take this opportunity to think of a few choice acronyms for this company (oops, “nonprofit”) and its new test. How about AIR standing for “Assessments In need of Repair”? Or maybe FSA standing for “Failed Standardized Assumptions.” Like the assumption that school districts have enough computers and bandwidth to administer these exams.

Never one to miss the opportunity to capture the media spotlight (unless it is a Herald article about class size) Miami Superintendent seized the moment to cancel testing citing his deep-rooted respect for students and teachers (which he is happy to cram in a room with a ration of 50:1):

“Improving the system alone isn’t sufficient for me, for my teachers, or my students,” Carvalho said at a morning press conference. “I respect them too much. Either they have it right, or they don’t. And improvement of something that broke down is not sufficient.”

http://stateimpact.npr.org/florida/2015/03/03/school-districts-report-second-day-of-testing-problems/#more-23388

Perhaps our Superintendent was so eager to postpone state testing because the district’s BYOD policy and deployment of 100,000 devices is partially to blame for Dade county students being unable to log on to the test? If your bandwidth is jammed up by students streaming rap videos on youtube with their cell phones and $500 district issued devices, you might have problems administering an online state exam. I don’t think it was a coincidence that yesterday, for the first time all year, our Internet did not work properly for the entire day. We were able to access our gradebook and receive email but other Internet sites were unavailable. This tells me the district was trying to filter our Internet to block streaming videos. Which would be fine and make sense unless your entire course is online because you teach Social Studies in one of the district’s digital device pilot programs.

Because I seem to have the curse of the Pharaoh, this would be the one day out of the entire year that my administration stepped foot in my classroom to do my formal observation. Here’s a hint admins: if the district sends out an email first thing in the morning saying they are experiencing Internet difficulties, perhaps you should think twice about doing the formal observation for a teacher who you know is teaching a course that is dependent on digital devices and access to online materials? Not to mention the fact that said teacher’s students were all scheduled to be taking the new FSA writing exam that day and the teacher had to scramble for a last minute lesson plan. Anyway…this whole incident goes to show how disruptive standardized testing is to the classroom. We will be testing from now until June 4th and we will be missing a large portion of our students on any given day. Now the district strategy seems to be to shut down all nonessential Internet sites during testing, further disrupting the classroom.

Let us hope the FSA writing exam epic failure shows our Florida Legislature just how detrimental standardized testing, and its accompanying punitive accountability system, can be to the education of our students, the careers of our teachers, and the reputations of our public schools.

 RIP

By choice, the Miami Dade County School District has found a way to circumvent the Florida class size amendment. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article10774637.html

It wasn’t enough that the Florida Legislature watered down the original class size amendment to only include 300 out of the original 800 courses it was meant to protect. Even though Advanced Placement and electives teachers have been dealing with class sizes of over 40 and student loads topping 200 for the past four years, core academic teachers have been sitting pretty with class sizes under 25 and earning supplements with a student load of only 150. That was until this year, when crafty Dade decided to declare 300 of their 435 schools, “schools of choice.”

I suppose the Machiavellian overlords of Dade County Schools decided there are two things that parents want, small class sizes and “choice.” By warping the definition of “choice” they can claim they are meeting parents demands while at the same time stripping away their students’ Constitutional right to a small class size. By labeling any school which accepts even one student from outside of their school boundaries a “Choice School,” the district drastically reduced the fine paid for out of compliance classrooms and nullified the class size amendment for 70% of its students. Any teacher will tell you that once the district starts using school-wide averages to calculate class size, the class size amendment might as well be lying six feet under.

Apparently stripping 240,000 students of their Constitutional right to a small class size was not good enough for Dade. Dade County schools will not be satisfied until the final nail has been driven into the class size amendment coffin. Reportedly under pressure from our “National Superintendent of the Year,” Republican Senator Garcia from Hialeah has filed a bill to have fines calculated by school-wide averages for all public schools in Florida. http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0818/BillText/Filed/PDF

First of all, it doesn’t surpise me that this horrendous bill is coming out of Hialeah. If you have ever had the misfortune of driving through this part of Miami, you know it’s a clusterf**ck of a zip code. Hialeah’s reputation is so notorious that there is actually a shirt out there that says “F***ing Hialeah.” Let’s not allow the unregulated urban sprawl of Hialeah to deregulate class sizes for the rest of Florida. Pick up the phone and give Senator Garcia’s office a call (805-487-5038). Let him know it’s a bad bill that should not see the light of day.

***Special thanks to the parents of Miami Beach High School for bringing media attention to this issue and exposing the district’s blatant violation of the Florida class size amendment. Never underestimate the power of a strong PTA,  scrupulous administrators, outspoken teachers and a free press.***

fifty-shades-of-grey-hardcover

Blame it on the media hype machine, but the only book I have seen any of my freshmen reading this year is “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Every day my world history course has had to compete with bondage and anal beads. I have seen both the Spanish and Portuguese versions of the book. The boys read it, the girls read it. It is as prevalent in my regular classes as it is in my honors classes. Even in my lowest level classes where every student is in remedial reading, that unmistakeable black and grey cover appears. Just imagine how reading scores would jump if they included passages from “Fifity Shades of Grey” instead of articles about multivitamins? Using context clues, what does sado-masochism mean? After reading the articles, write an argumentative essay in favor or against bondage chambers. Don’t forget your counterclaim and to cite your sources!  Is “Fifty Shades of Grey” the answer to the American education crisis? Would it really be so bad if our students showed their reading comprehension skills by interpreting soft core mommy porn? I guess it might get problematic when the author’s purpose question comes up. Is the answer A) to provide titillation for bored housewives or B) to educate adolescent boys about nipple clamps?

Call me a prude, but I don’t want my students asking me if I’m going to see “Fifty Shades of Grey” for Valentine’s Day. I feel rather disgusted when a fourteen year old girl sucking on a blow pop reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” tells me I have to read the book because, “It’ll make your toes curl Miss.” By the way, do students even bother to learn their teachers’ names anymore? I don’t think I’ve been called anything but a generic “Miss” all year. When I overhear my students refer to their other female teachers, they never call them by their names either. All of their female teachers seem to have the same first and last names, “F…ing B..ch.”  Maybe it’s because I teach in Miami, but the girls all come dressed like they’re going to a belly dancing class with their midriffs hanging out (and my school has a uniform policy!). The latest trend in fourteen year old girl fashion is three inch long acrylic stripper nails. They can’t even type answers into their tablets or iPads because their nails get in the way.

I guess I’m just a little bit cranky because I thought I would escape the nightmare that is Valentine’s Day as a high school teacher since the holiday fell on the weekend this year. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to deal with my students being hidden behind balloons and giant teddy bears and my class being interrupted by students delivering flower-grams every five minutes.  In retrospect, maybe those teddy bears and heart shaped balloons aren’t so bad after all. It’s nice to see that innocence and romance haven’t been completely forgotten in the shadows of the handcuffs and leather straps of “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

WELCOME-TO-THE-LAND-OF-ACCOUNTABILITY

Miami Dade Public Schools loves winning. They love to come in first place. Much to our Superintendent’s and School Board’s pleasure, a new study ranks Miami Dade County Public Schools first in efficiency. In fact, our School Board is so efficient they managed to cut their own budget by reducing the millage rate for property owners last year. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article1975799.html It is not often one sees a School Board so awash in extra funding that they pass policy to reduce their own budget. That’s how stinking efficient Miami Dade Public Schools! According to Wallet Hub, Dade County has the highest test scores given the amount of educational dollars spent.

http://miami.cbslocal.com/2015/02/04/study-ranks-miami-dade-school-system-1-for-efficiency/

 If you take the time to watch the video with this article, the most disturbing part is at the end when a PTA President speaks about how great it is that our schools are using their educational dollars so wisely. I would love to take this PTA Dad on a tour of two Dade County schools. One that shows clear signs of efficient spending, and one that is clearly wasting the tax payer’s dime. Then I would like to ask him which school he would like his own child to attend.
The first school will be a large urban traditional public school. We will walk into an inclusion classroom to see just how efficient Miami Dade County Schools can be. Here he will see that there are 50 students packed in one classroom meant for 25. Look at how efficient we are! We don’t need to spend all of that money on extra classrooms when we can shove two classrooms worth of students into one! The parent will see many students who don’t speak English, many students with learning and behavioral problems, and many students who just don’t care, their parents don’t care, or the counselor didn’t care because they have 500 other student schedules to deal with. The parent will see one teacher running around like a chicken with their head cut off trying to meet the needs of all of these challenging types of learners. What about the inclusion teacher you say? They have been pulled out of the classroom either to proctor a test or to cover for an absent teacher. Why spend money on a substitute when we can just use the inclusion teacher? That’s not very efficient. The parent will glance around the room and see only ten old textbooks. Have you seen the cost of textbooks these days Dad? The kids will just have to share. A handful of students who paid the $5 rental fee for a tablet are watching rap videos on youtube since the server to restrict their Internet was never installed and the teacher is too busy trying to control the rest of the class to notice. PTA Dad will glance at the teacher’s desk which is stacked high with ungraded papers. He notices a food stamp application with the teacher’s name on it and a TGIF uniform hanging on his chair. Hard to keep up with grading over 200 student papers when you have to work a second job at TGIF to feed a family of four!  Then Dad will have to go to the bathroom and come back with a disgusted look on his face because there was no toilet paper, soap or paper towels.  PTA Dad has seen enough of this amazingly efficient public school. He will ask to be taken to see the inefficient school immediately.
The second school on our tour will be an I-Tech magnet school. Even though the school is in the middle of inner city Miami, when one steps in the school they get the sense that they have just entered a New England prep school. There are only one hundred students total. Large class sizes run around twenty students and classes can be as small as eight students. There are so few students at this school that most of the classrooms are empty. The classrooms with students are equipped with ergonomically correct desks that have wheels and cup holders so they don’t get the fancy tech equipment wet. How much did those fancy desks costs PTA Dad will wonder? Not only do they have designer desks at this school, they have so much extra bling to throw around that they have bean bag chairs so students can get cozy with their laptops. PTA Dad will see a young energetic teacher who has had hours of professional development on using technology in the classroom conduct a seamless interactive lesson with ten highly engaged students who can only access the websites the teacher has selected thanks to a fancy server and software program. PTA Dad will acknowledge that the tax payer dime does seem to have been squandered and the school is terribly inefficient. He will then ask to be immediately escorted to the registrar’s office so he can put his child on the wait list.

back-to-to-school-cartoon-twitter1

It is rare that teachers or students are ever consulted about policy decisions that directly impact teaching and learning in the classroom.  This is especially true when it comes to multi-million dollar purchases of expensive tech equipment. My district certainly never consulted me or my students prior to deploying 100,000 devices across the district and after seven months in a digital classroom, I doubt the district will ask for our feedback before they  deploy another 100,000 devices to tenth grade students next fall. But what if all of this expensive gadgetry is actually detrimental to the learning process as a recent article printed in the New York Times suggests?

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/30/opinion/can-students-have-too-much-tech.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=0

It turns out that students who received laptops actually had lower reading scores than before they received the technology. This was especially true for male students. It doesn’t take a PhD to figure out that students, especially boys, were more likely to waste their time playing video games now that they had a computer rather than do their homework or read a book.

I decided to ask my students to write an argumentative essay about whether technology in the classroom was beneficial or detrimental to the learning experience as part of our school wide writing plan as we prepared for the new Florida Standards English Language Arts assessment in March. I’ve been dying to know what my students really felt about the use of tablets and other devices in the classroom and I thought having them write an argumentative essay after reading two articles in favor and two articles against would give me an excellent opportunity to assess their opinions as I was also assessing their writing. The essays ran about 60% against  technology and 40% in favor. Below is a sampling of some of the students’ reasons for viewing technology as detrimental as well as beneficial. Colorful language and grammatical errors have remain unchanged.

Negative

1. From a student who is in the 9th grade myself I can’t even be focused on my work if my teacher is on the starboard teaching a lesson I am on my tablet watching fights boxing or UFC . and when it comes to the work I don’t even have a clue what to do. Bet if we used the textbooks it wouldn’t be like that.

2. Districts/schools have wasted so much money on tablets that half the students don’t even use.

3.With a phone pr tablets it’s very easy to cheat on a test because on a tablet or phone it looks like student is doing work but there not most of the time. On paper a teacher can easily see that a student is cheating but since public schools are getting dumber and dumber by the years I don’t know how public schools are still open. Like why make a teachers life harder while bringing tablets to public schools like a teacher that her whole teaching career she has been using paper in her classroom and then one year a tablet comes on the teacher would most likely say what the heck is this. There main thought would be, now all these kids are gunna cheat.

4.Technology in the classroom is detrimental because allows school districts to boast about their technology, and the student understands, learns, and remembers the material less.

5. It seems that school district only gives students technology in the classroom in order to boast about how much more advanced we are, and that we have expensive devices to give out and your school district doesn’t. Students are capable of learning a new lesson without the need of the device, and learn just as much or in the majority of the times, more than students who use devices in the class. Students do not need to have a device with them that allows them to become distracted and learn less, just because the school district wants to boast about giving them to the students

6.Us, the students, get distracted too easily when it comes to technology. It’s not fully our fault. Especially with all these applications, games, and interesting things to browse on the internet when you’re teacher is giving you an assignment to do. It’s like saying come to biggest candy factory but can’t take any candy.

7.I remember once during the 8th grade I was so madly addicted to video games all I can do in class was sit there and think about what game I was going to play, which level, and so much more. This hurt me quite a lot actually, I started falling behind in quizzes’ tests, homework, and even classwork because I would just be day dreaming in class about a pointless video game. In fact, I was so madly addicted I would lie to my mom, or dad, and say I am sick and that they need to pick me up early. It was to the point I realized this technology was ruining my life, academic grades, and being a normal kid. So I did what I should’ve done the first time it got really bad playing games. I threw my favorite and only console away. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life because I knew my dad would not buy me a new one. 5 weeks later, I ended up bringing all my grades up to having straight B’s. My dad was really proud so he bought me a new console, which I used rarely.

8. When we use technology we are not productive, we spend time doing things were not supposed to be doing with technology.On the other hand if it was a book,paper,and, pencil then you would have no choice but to do your work.

9.The teachers will work hard to put together a lesson plan, just to see the students skip it and go straight to the Internet.

Positive

1.Through personal experience I can say that my world history teacher has made the switch and is now mine and some of her students favorite class due to the learning and joy of the class. It’s an amazing factor that should be in every class in every school.

2. By using technology we will also limit the amount of trash we create. It would be benefiting the planet as well. Along with taking away the excuses that they didn’t know the assignment because teachers are now going to be able to assign stuff online. This will have students more organized and keep them from losing information and being able to have the textbook online saves so much paper and money. School online is more efficient and organized.
I believe that technology in the classroom will benefit us in the long run and benefit our planet.

3. Lets get one thing straight tablets do not make people stupid, people make themselves stupid.”But i can easily get distracted if i have access to the web”. Okay A yeah you can get easily distracted if you have access to the internet but you choose to be distracted, and B Why do you blame the tablets for some thing you did. If that’s the case i guess spoons make people fat, cars drive themselves into accidents, and guns shoot themselves.

4. And for all the hippies out there saying were wasting electricity and killing mother nature just know that you have the intelligence of a wall nut. By using tablets,computers,and smartphones we use little to no paper or pencil whatsoever therefore barley cutting down trees. Plus if you use a device you can save your work, rather than using paper and 5/10 of the time losing it.

5. We’ve came to far with technology just to abandon it and return to boring text books. In a matter of seconds a student can search exactly what he or she is looking for, instead of flipping through pages risking to get a paper cut. Little by little we are leaning to the digital world by reading books, newspapers, and reports. This is beneficial for the environment in somewhat a way because we are limiting our use of paper.

6. Now students can spread their ideas and opinions on social media or site allowing them to not only make an impact but to flourish in their learning environment. Technology facilitates the way we learn and absorb information in our everyday lives at school or college. Some experts say that technology is making humanity stupid. The problem is not technology it’s the user and the way he or she is using it. For example you have a hammer you can chose to build things with it or you can choose to hit people’s head and cause a nuisance. That’s the same way with technology.

Despite the fact that many students clearly viewed technology as harming their classroom environment and studies are starting to suggest that student achievement is actually suffering from district issued gadgets, the tech genie has been let out of the bottle and chances are slim to none that he will be shoved back in. The best we can hope for is that technology may solve some of the more distracting aspects of the digital classroom and we can harness the best of the web to broaden our students’ minds instead of letting them atrophy in the constant glare of Google.

Cockroach Bible Class: 'And God said 'let there be light'!'

You know it’s a slow news day in Dade County when roaches in schools is the lead story in the local news broadcasts.  http://miami.cbslocal.com/video/11060196-dade-school-superintendent-tours-school-amid-filth-allegations/

Anyone shocked by the news that south Florida schools are filled with roaches and black mold while the restrooms remain empty of paper towels and soap has obviously never stepped foot in a public school. Somehow this story not only made the front page of the Miami Herald two days in a row and got a Principal fired, it also managed to illicit the following response on social media from our Superintendent:

“Students’ honest voices must not only be respected, and honored, but those that lead to systemic change, celebrated,” Carvalho said in a tweet.

http://www.local10.com/news/miami-sunset-high-school-principal-resigns-after-moldy-juice-roach-photos-emerge/30866220

As reported in the Miami Herald, Carvalho has taken to social media himself to counter allegations that students were punished for speaking about conditions at Sunset.

“NOT on my watch,” he tweeted.

Carvalho also wrote: “Voicing what we see in schools is not only an opportunity, but a protected right.”

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article7890381.html

Our Superintendent is suddenly standing up for transparency and employees’ rights to speak about conditions in Dade County schools?  Has a new day dawned in Dade County? Well I for one certainly feel more comfortable writing this blog and thought I should document these words for posterity’s sake (and just in case I need it for future legal purposes).

Hey kids, I know you are all grossed out by roaches (you should see the hysteria in my classroom whenever a roach makes its way across the floor) but maybe you could also post a photograph of an overcrowded classroom on Instagram? Surely if the media and the district reacted so quickly to a few bugs and mold specimens, a photograph of students sitting on the floor (no doubt covered in rodent droppings) might create similar swift action in reducing class size? I know you hate roaches kiddos, but that is how the district is treating you when they pack 50 students in a room designed for 25.

byod_strategy_1

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has become one of the latest buzz acronyms in education today. Like most other trendy education acronyms, teachers usually end up substituting their own words for said acronym once they have experienced it for themselves in the classroom. Now that I have been working for six months in a BYOD school district, I can affirmatively declare that by encouraging our students to bring in their own device we have allowed them to bring in their own distraction instead.  For ninth graders in my district, the county has even footed the bill for creating the perfect classroom environment for the digitally distracted learner. It doesn’t have to be this way. Technology can be a powerful tool in the classroom that can engage students, but if implemented on the cheap, hastily and without a means for teachers to control that technology, it becomes a tool for student disengagement instead.  Since no teachers were consulted about my district’s pilot tablet distribution program prior to its implementation, I have a feeling they won’t be seeking my input at the end of the year either. So let me use my teacher blog to offer a few suggestions for districts looking to implement a device initiative in their schools:

1. BYOD does not work. It sounds great, but in practice a class filled with 35 students on different personal devices that cannot be controlled by the teacher leads to a digital disaster. Districts love BYOD because they can brag about being “21st Century schools” but they don’t have to foot the bill for the devices. If the district did not purchase the students’ devices, they have little they can do to control those devices. Not to mention the headaches created when students get their devices stolen in school. Class warfare may also erupt in your classroom as students with the latest techno gadget are declared “rich” and the students with the cracked screen 2010 smartphone are bullied for being poor.

Bring back the ban on cellphones. Yes students can get work done on cell phones but they also spend most of their time text messaging or playing video games with them instead. The lines are too blurred for teachers when we tell students they can take out their cell phones but at the same time we need to confiscate them when we catch students goofing off on their phones.

2. Forget about giving each student a device, just give the teachers a class set instead. It sounds grand and districts get to play Santa Claus by giving every student a device, but in the end it will probably prove cheaper just to give teachers of academic subjects a class set instead. We haven’t experienced the end of the year chaos of trying to collect all of the tablets the district deployed, but when we do I anticipate a high number of lost, stolen and broken tablets as well as students losing chargers and the ten different accessories that were handed out with the tablets.  Parents will be irate when they receive the $500 bill for little Johnny’s lost tablet. Especially since the same tablet now costs $200 at Best Buy.

Economics aside, giving teachers a class set allows teachers some control over their classroom and eliminates the headaches involved when students forget to bring their device or bring a device that hasn’t been charged. I have the same kids lug around a five pound tablet with no charge everyday. Why they bother to bring a tablet that cannot be used because it hasn’t been charged is beyond me but they still do it. Additionally, school administrators will be happy that they will have fewer irate parents threatening to sue the school because their daughter found a way to post a picture of herself on Instagram in her underwear using the district issued tablet.

3. DO NOT DISTRIBUTE DEVICES UNTIL YOU HAVE INSTALLED THE SERVERS THAT ENABLE TEACHERS TO CONTROL THEIR STUDENTS’ INTERNET ACCESS.  At the very brief training I attended during the summer, we were shown a classroom management system called Lanschool that would enable us to monitor what our students were doing on their tablets and shut down their Internet. We would also be able to restrict their web browsing to only the educational sites we had chosen for that day’s lesson. It’s January and still no sign of the servers being installed. In the mean time, it’s been an Internet free for all. My students spend most of their time browsing youtube for the latest rap videos or Latin American soccer games. They refuse to ever read a textbook because it’s much easier to just copy and paste answers from Google. I asked them to draw an image of how they imagined the First Thanksgiving but since none of them have any imagination they were all Googling how to draw hand turkeys instead.

4. Tablets are overrated, purchase laptops instead. Students need a keyboard in the classroom and they will be too lazy to bring the bulky keyboard for their tablets with them to school. It’s actually faster for them to text answers on their cellphones than to hunt and peck on the tablet screen. To type on a tablet without a keyboard half of the screen is taken up by the letters. Laptop screens do not crack. Laptops are ergonomically correct. I am sick of only seeing the tops of my students’ heads because they are hunched over staring down at their tablets. They do not need to carry any additional accessories with them in order to have a functional operating system. I hate tablets and apps are overrated too. The students seem to hate the tablets as well.

5. Provide paid training of your teachers over the summer. Get them excited about the new technology and give them time to learn new software programs they can use to make their lives easier. If you just throw them a bunch of $500 tablets at the beginning of the year with no training and warn them that “they need to be out and in use from day one” you will only breed resentment and negativity and districts might as well just throw hundred dollar bills out the window because that is what your teachers are going to want to do with those tablets.

If your district has implemented a BYOD program or issued devices to students, what has your experience been? Please leave a comment below to share any insights and advice.

TeachersLounge

I walked into my school’s teachers’ lounge for the first time this year yesterday. Now that my students all have tablet computers I don’t make copies anymore and I don’t have to run off scantrons so I have no particular reason to venture across my school’s campus to the teacher’s lounge. What I encountered in the teachers’ lounge was like something out of horror movie. What had previously been a somewhat pleasant room painted a cheery yellow with a couple of uncomfortable couches, had been turned into a storage room for old textbooks, broken desks and in the absence of any other life forms an ant colony had taken over. I dared to venture into the bathroom and found no toilet paper, soap or paper towels. This is par for the course in your average student bathroom but this was the teachers’ lounge. In past years, you could usually count on your fellow teachers to provide at least some air fresheners, hand soap, and occasionally some soft ply toilet paper instead of the sand paper grade public school quality that disintegrates mid-wipe.

Ten years ago when I first started my teaching career at my school, teachers actually hung out in the teachers’ lounge. Of course the concept of a teachers’ lounge is a little ridiculous since teachers do not exactly have any time to “lounge” around during the school day and sitting in the room with copy machine fumes and the endless cacophony of underachieving student scantrons being run off in the background, it was never a place where one would chose to spend much time. Maybe because I didn’t have my own classroom my first year teaching, I did eat lunch in the teachers’ lounge every day. There was a whole group of us that would eat lunch, tell dirty jokes, and celebrate each other’s birthdays. For twenty minutes every day teachers could get what they otherwise never have- adult contact. The isolation of the teaching profession is one of the worst aspects of the job. You may pop your head in the teacher’s classroom next door for a few seconds between classes but mostly you are in your room, the only adult in a sea of adolescent angst.

I’m not sure why, when or how our teacher’s lounge began to resemble a tenement housing slum from the early days of the Industrial Revolution. It was a slow decline. Maybe because we got a new building where teachers had to walk down three flights of stairs in order to get to the teacher’s lounge? Security guards took over for a while. You would often find one of them asleep on the uncomfortable couches or watching Jerry Springer during their breaks. Maybe that’s why the couches with scratchy upholstery disappeared. When the couches disappeared, so did the security guards. Now that the security guards have also ceased to use the teacher’s lounge, it has basically become a dumping ground. Perhaps the condition of my school’s teacher lounge can be taken as a metaphor for the teaching profession in general.

What are teacher lounges in your school like? What do you do to combat the isolation of our profession? Leave a comment below.

merit pay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

grinch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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