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.

texas-teacher

You know it’s the end of the school year in Dade County when the Chief Human Capital Officer sends out their annual email begging ten-month employees not to bombard them with requests for employment verification letters so that they may apply for food stamps in order to feed their families over the summer. The district graciously sends out letters automatically to bus drivers, cafeteria workers and school secretaries, but the rest of you buggers better have a darned good reason for burdening the downtown bureaucrats with your silly little letter requests just so you can eat.

“May 26, 2015

TO:                 All Employees

FROM:            Chief Human Capital Officer

Office of Human Capital Management

SUBJECT:     EMPLOYMENT VERIFICATION LETTERS

 

It has come to our attention that 10-month employees are requesting employment verification letters from the Records/Transcripts Analysis Department stating that they are not employed in the summer for the purpose of applying for benefits with the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).  From the large volume of requests for employment verification letters that we have received, it is apparent that individuals requesting these letters are under the assumption that they can qualify for these benefits merely by virtue of being a 10-month employee.

The Office of Human Capital Management is requesting that employees confirm whether they qualify for these benefits before they submit requests for employment verification letters.  Please refer to the DCF website (http://www.dcf.state.fl.us) for information as to the requirements for qualifying for these benefits.  You may also wish to contact appropriate DCF personnel to make this determination.  Among some of the general requirements for eligibility for the food stamp program are the following:

  • Household monthly gross income (pre-tax pay) must be less than 130% of the federal poverty guidelines.
  • Household monthly net income (after-tax pay) must be less than 100% of the federal poverty guidelines.  This requirement does not apply if one individual in your household is 60 or older or disabled.

Employees who have determined, after appropriate inquiry and verification, that they are legitimately entitled to these benefits, may request employment verification by sending an email request to persrecords@dadeschools.net. In order to expedite your request, please reference “2015 Employment Verification” in the subject line of the email.

Food Service Workers and Bus Drivers/Aides do not have to send an e-mail to obtain employment verification.  Letters will be sent automatically on Friday, May 29, 2015 to work locations and may be obtained from respective Food Service Managers, School Secretaries, or Transportation Center Directors.  Employees with questions regarding this matter should contact their site supervisor for further information.

Your cooperation in this matter is sincerely appreciated.”

This email got Kafkateach wondering if other teachers in large urban areas feel financially destitute enough that they need to apply for government assistance to survive over the summer? To be fair, I won’t dare compare a right to work state like Florida to a heavily unionized state like New York. I will compare Florida to another right to work for less state with no income tax, a massive standardized testing regime, a reputation for being ranked in the bottom third of states for per pupil spending, a Republican dominated legislature and the misfortune of once having a member of the Bush family for governor. You guessed it, let’s compare Florida to Texas.

More specifically, let’s compare teacher salaries in the most expensive urban areas of Texas, to Miami Dade, the most expensive urban area in Florida. Given that Miami Dade was recently ranked the 8th most expensive rental market in the country and purchasing real estate is out of reach for most teachers who can’t even afford to save enough money to eat over the summer, let alone a 20% down payment on a house, one might expect Miami Dade teachers to come out ahead of teachers working in Dallas or Houston- then again, one might be wrong, very wrong. Urban Texas teachers come out ahead, way ahead, of urban Florida teachers when it comes to salaries. An alert and loyal reader sent me the following link to the pay schedule for Dallas teachers http://www.nctq.org/docs/Dallas.pdf.

Beginning teacher pay is over $47,000 compared to just over $40,000 for teachers working in Dade http://salary.dadeschools.net/Schd_Teachers/ If you go even further south to Houston, beginning teacher pay is about to be bumped up to over $50,000! http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2015/05/houston_leaders_propose_slashi.html?intc=es  I’ll be lucky to break $50,000 by the time I retire based on our current rate of step increases! So how does Houston plan on paying for these generous beginning teacher salaries? By dumping VAM based merit pay in favor of traditional raises. If only Florida could learn from Texas (did I really just say that?).

So what exactly is in the Florida water that enables school districts to repeatedly screw over Florida teachers so badly? Sure, our azur seas beat the brackish brown waters of Texas hands down. But you can’t live on sand (though many Dade teachers facing eviction notices might be forced to sleep on it for July and August). Somehow Texas manages to pay their teachers a living wage without strong unions threatening to strike. Then again, everything is bigger in Texas, especially beginning teacher salaries!

For those of you who might be tempted to silence teachers by questioning their right to complain because, “they knew what they were signing up for”  (one former Miami Dade teacher who hasn’t worked for the district in the past seven years actually said this on Facebook this morning) my response is this:

When I signed up to be a teacher there were guaranteed step advancements, cost of living increases, raises, class size limits, no 3% contribution for FRS, no VAM, and job security. Now we are faced with no step increases for years, unfunded merit pay, no COLA, a 3% pay cut, baloney evaluations that can get you put on annual contract and fired, something called an “annualized stipend” that is not guaranteed and never leads to a higher salary, large class sizes with no supplements and the 8th highest rents in the US while teacher pay is the 57th lowest out of 60 urban areas. That is NOT what I signed up for in 2003.

champagne toast

I hope you didn’t click on this blog post thinking you were getting a raise. That hope was dashed this week when Governor Rick Scott, or the grim reaper as some refer to him, danced on the grave of every teachers’ aspirations of salary increases by abandoning campaign promises of bringing Florida per pupil spending to record levels and recommending a continuation budget instead. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/gov-rick-scott-tells-fox-news-hes-giving-up-on-tax-cuts-pursuing/2229284

Considering that Florida is expecting 15,000 new students next school year, a continuation budget is going to mean tough times for Florida public schools with larger class sizes and stagnant teacher salaries.

Enough with the doom and gloom. I realize I may be at my best when I’m feeling grumpy and go on a rant, but for now I feel like celebrating. It’s the end of the year, summer vacation is around the corner, testing is almost over and somehow I have managed to keep my job despite writing this blog, speaking at Board meetings, going on the record with Miami Herald reporters, and getting personally reprimanded by the Superintendent.  Here are a few more reasons Florida teachers have to rejoice, despite a bleak budget forecast:

  • The Opt Out movement and the push back against standardized testing gained major momentum and media attention. The perception of Opt-outers went from 1960s fringe radicals to suburban soccer moms. Miami-Dade’s own Ceresta Smith, a nationally recognized leader of the movement and someone who was opting out way before it was cool, finally got to see the term “Opt Out” co-opted by top union leaders. UTD, the FEA and the NEA all jumped on the Opt Out bandwagon this year and even our own Mr. Race to the Top Superintendent seemed to be retreating from his previous years of promoting test based accountability and spoke out against over testing on various occasions. Having a Superintendent who is the ultimate politician and who has the ability to sway from one end of the pendulum to the other like a Miami palm tree bending with the wind can be a good thing. The powerhouse combo of FEA lobbying, school district lobbying, PTA lobbying and the media spotlight helped to pass legislation which limits the amount of testing in Florida schools, repeals the mandate for remediation courses, and reduces the weight of VAM. We still have a long way to go, but it is a major step in the right direction.
  • Miami Herald reporter Christina Veiga did a bang up job writing articles that exposed some of the district’s dirtier (literally) secrets. Roaches and soap free bathrooms may have come to no surprise to teachers or students, but at least the general public is now aware of the problem. Dade County’s misuse of the “School of Choice” loophole and violation of the class size amendment was revealed. The disruption caused by standardized testing was covered, as was the district’s intimidation tactics of teachers and parents who speak at School Board meetings. More good news, the four teachers who were quoted in the article still have jobs! Somehow Christina Veiga manages to write education articles that teachers actually want to read while simultaneously allowing school district spokespeople to work their spin. Kudos to Christina Veiga for changing teachers’ perception of the Miami Herald’s reporting on education issues.
  • VAM and the entire accountability movement were ridiculed on a national late night television show by a major comedian. I can die a happy woman. John Oliver gave teachers the ultimate gift during teacher appreciation week by exposing the absurdity of NCLB, Race to the Top and VAM to the entire world. I would post the link here but I’m sure most of you reading have watched the clip several times already.
  • Other teachers at my school spoke out about class size and finally began to understand the stupidity of VAM. On Friday, a teacher at my school who was present at a PTSA meeting where I first spoke out about class size and VAM four years ago compared me to Nostradamus. She had recorded that meeting with her cellphone and stored it on her Itunes. For some reason she decided to listen to it last week and realized everything I had predicted four years ago had come true. I’m not sure it’s a good thing to be compared to someone who is best known for predicting the end of the world, but confirmation by a fellow staff member that I was prescient felt good.
  • Teachers across the nation, Florida, and Miami Dade are starting to connect and strategically stand up for their profession and public schools. We now have the national Badass Teachers Association, the Florida BATs Facebook group, a Miami Dade County BAT Teacher Association Facebook group, and the Miami Educator Facebook page and blog for keeping teachers informed . I joined the Rank and File Educators of Miami google group and enjoyed face-to-face conversations with intelligent, caring, well-informed educators who aren’t afraid of being activists and working towards a union that represents the issues that classroom teachers really care about. A protest over the district’s violation of the class size amendment at a School Board meeting was organized by everyday teachers who just happened to connect on Facebook. Two district wide emails went out venting against corporate education reform and standardized testing. We seem to be in the midst of a great awakening of the nation’s public school teachers. It’s a Monday morning awakening, where they really just want to pull the covers over their head and go back to sleep, but they are gradually waking up and for that I rejoice. I used to feel so alone writing this blog at 2 am when I couldn’t sleep. I don’t feel so alone anymore.
  • I finally had a few blog posts go viral with thousands of shares on Facebook. I’m not exactly “breaking the Internet” but not bad for a frazzled middle-aged teacher mom who spends about an hour every week blogging about random topics and then posting it on Facebook. Considering that most of these posts are written while I’m simultaneously trying to cook dinner, empty the dishwasher, and break up battles between siblings, I’m pleased with whatever readership I can get. Despite the fact that I often go into work worrying that writing this blog is going to one day cost me my job, I feel the need to blog on. I keep a quote by my desk both for motivation and for the confirmation that exposing the truth in the face of my own personal fears is the right thing to do. I first heard this quote at a Saturday morning yoga class the week after I was on the front page of the Miami Herald for having 56 students in an AP classroom. I feared for my relationship with my administrators, I feared for my job, and I felt that my coworkers hated me for making the school look bad. At the end of the class the yoga instructor read a quote that remains with me until this day. She prefaced it by saying it was written by her friend’s 22 year old son who had just committed suicide.

“Give me the strength to be real and true to myself.

Through the truth, God lives in me.

All things are love and peace and light!

Embrace it fully right now, because now is the only time.”

-Elliot Castellano 1989-2011

For some reason, I googled his name when I went home and it turned out he attended the school where I teach. I took that as I sign that I was on the right path and that if I continued to tell the truth everything would work out in the end. So far it has.

bored student

I started this blog four years ago as a means of giving teachers a voice in the national debate over education reform. Actually, it was never much of a debate but rather a constant badgering by billionaires and their buffoons blasting the nation’s public schools and public school teachers. If there is anyone who has had even less of a voice as to what goes on in American public schools than the teachers, it is the students. My school doesn’t even have a student newspaper anymore. I would like to use my blog today, on a day that I spent proctoring a test rather than teaching, to give our students a voice. I would like for the public to hear the words of an actual public school student, the same students heralded by craftily named legislation like “No Child Left Behind” and corporate education reform organizations like “Students First.” This is what the national obsession with accountability and standardized metrics has done to our students.

Please read this letter written by a student while waiting almost three hours to log on to her Pearson generated computerized assessment. She wrote it on a piece of scratch paper provided to her. I didn’t tell her to write this letter. In fact, she told me later that she always writes these letters on the scratch paper provided during testing just hoping that some day, someone will read them. It is being printed here with her permission.

Dear Whomever it May Concern,

The excessive instability brought upon by the dysfunctional assessment tests that students are being given is proving nothing but detrimental to Florida’s education system. I am appalled at the lack of organization and professional development coming from the state’s elected officials. It seems to many of us that students are being used as pawns in a corrupt effort to collect funds through the constant creation of unnecessary examinations.

The level of dysfunction in regards to these assessments is unjust and disrupts the development of the young mind. The simple fact that whether or not we would be taking EOC exams for every class was not certain until the final quarter of the school year, is absolutely unacceptable. This school year, everything was “up in the air” in terms of testing, which probably resulted in unnecessary stress, and low academic performance.

As a student, I can say with all honesty, that this is not a complaint derived from lethargy. My concerns as addressed in this letter are valid, and an accurate representation of the feelings of all who are involved in the education system-students and teachers alike. I can tell you with my fullest and most genuine confidence that we all stand against the current system of testing, and believe that the academic well-being of the students is not the interest of those administering the exams.

Given the amount of time put into testing, the level of school-wide disruption that it causes, and the copious levels of unnecessary stress pushed upon both teachers and students, it is clear that a more stable and well-intentioned system of testing is long overdue.

Sincerely,

An anonymous 11th grade student who is a proud product of the public school system and not only knows how to write in legible cursive without a single mistake, but can also use the word lethargy correctly in a sentence.

OK, she didn’t really sign her letter that way but I did not want to use her name. I happened to have taught this student her 9th grade year and I knew she was a good writer (by the way, she scored a 1 on the standardized test she had to take as a freshmen in my class). This student was not even scheduled to take her EOC in the room where I was proctoring. Whether by chance, or by divine intervention, she ended up in my room after there were not enough functioning computers in her original testing room to take the exam. She then had the misfortune of selecting a computer that repeatedly booted her out of the exam without even letting her start it. She had to wait hours for a computer technician to arrive to fix her exam. As the saying goes, “Out of the mouths of babes”….

baby money

In honor of Mother’s Day, I would like to dedicate this blog post to all of the Dade County teachers who dared to reproduce. After a Teacher Appreciation week filled with token robo calls and mass emails expressing words of gratitude, I’m done with sentiment and I want to deal with some cold hard facts. The fact is, that if you choose to become a teacher breeder in Dade County, you are also choosing a path to poverty. This is especially true if you happen to be a single parent teacher (of which I know many) whether it be through circumstance, death or divorce.

According to the Miami curbed.com, the median rent for a two bedroom apartment in Miami is $2450, making Miami the 8th most expensive city for rent in the nation. http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/median-rent-in-miami-for-a-two-bedroom-apartment-is-2-450-eighth-highest-in-nation-7602263

Miami rent

This becomes an even more depressing economic figure for the teacher breeder when you take into account that Miami ranks 57th out of 60 urban areas for teacher pay. http://www.ncpa.org/pdfs/2014_Teacher_Pay_Report-NCPA_MacIver.pdf

You can check out this interactive map of teacher salaries from Mother Jones magazine if you would like to find a city somewhere in America where you might be able to continue your career as a teacher and still be able to afford to reproduce. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/map-teachers-salaries-by-city

Because I’m dealing with cold hard facts, I am going to attempt to illustrate how the teacher breeder living and working in Miami-Dade County is on the path to financial ruin using some basic math. Since we teach in the era of Common Core math, this will have to take the form of a word problem.

Teacher A is a young single teacher with no children. As a first year teacher in Miami Dade County their annual salary is $40,000. After taxes, their take home pay is $3200 over ten months. In order to survive over the summer they will have to save $500 a month. This leaves Teacher A with $2700 a month for expenses. Teacher A is renting a small studio apartment or possibly has a roommate and is paying $1200 a month for rent. Teacher A does not have to pay for health insurance since they have no dependents. Teacher A chooses to live near their school and rides a bike to work. Teacher A eats a lot of ramen noodles and spends $200 a month on food. Teacher A has a second job at a restaurant and makes an extra $500 a week. How much money does Teacher A have left over at the end of the month?

Answer: $1800

Teacher A, who is young enough to have no responsibilities and enough energy for a second job, is thinking “Woo-hoo! This teacher gig is pretty good!”

Fast forward ten years. Teacher A has now become Teacher B (B is for breeder). Teacher B reproduced with an Argentinian bus boy who has since been deported and pays no child support. After ten years of teaching, Teacher B is making an annual salary of $42,000. Their take home pay after taxes is $3400 a month over a ten month period. They have to set aside $700 a month to survive over the summer. This leaves Teacher B with $2700 for monthly expenses. Teacher B pays $2400 a month for a two bedroom apartment. Teacher B also has to pay $700 a month to insure their child. Oops! Teacher B is already in the hole and they haven’t even paid for food! Teacher B bought a used Honda civic in cash with the money they saved when working an extra job before they had children. They still have to pay $200 a month for car insurance, gas, and tolls. Teacher B’s child is young enough to be in day care at a cost of $800 a month. Teacher B’s child is still in diapers leading to a monthly grocery bill of $500 a month. How much is Teacher B in the hole at the end of every month?

Answer: -$1900

Teacher B is running a monthly deficit of $1900. Teacher B, who is now middle aged and doesn’t have the energy or the looks to make $500 a week waiting tables, is now contemplating a move to back to their parents’ home in Oklahoma.

Of course there are some teacher breeders who married well (you can tell who they are by the car they drive). In that case, $42,000 a year is a decent secondary income. The reality is that the majority of Miami Dade teacher breeders are not married to doctors or lawyers and some are even married to, God forbid, another teacher. Many teachers chose their profession because they love children. It is a sad irony that if these teachers want to continue to work in Miami Dade County Public Schools, they may have to make the economic decision to forgo having children of their own.

On a cheerier note, a very happy Mother’s Day to all of my teacher breeder readers! Our little bundles of joy are way better than those fancy European vacations some of our childless teacher colleagues get to take every summer.

thinkgate-office*1200xx640-360-0-60

Teachers and school districts across Florida, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Ohio were in for a rude awakening last week when they went to administer an online assessment or dig into their student data to plan a “data driven” lesson only to find that the link to Thinkgate, an online testing service that received millions in Race To the Top funds, suddenly shut their doors-taking droves of district, state, and teacher generated assessments and student data with them.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/ed-tech-company-folds-after-receiving-millions-in-race-to-the-top-funds/2015/05/06/c637e5aa-f310-11e4-b2f3-af5479e6bbdd_story.html

In Miami-Dade, we received an email suggesting that we download our assessments and data within 48 hours because Thinkgate was doing a data transfer. Since they did not say that Thinkgate was going to implode within the next 48 hours, and since there was no way I would have time to suddenly sit there and try to figure out how to download all of my assessments in the two day window I was given in the middle of the school week, I didn’t save anything. This week when I went to set up my final online assessment of the year, poof, the site no longer existed.

After having spent a day of my summer vacation getting lost in the labyrinth of West Hialeah so I could attend a Thinkgate training for which I did not even receive a token $100 stipend, nor 15 master plan points to renew my license, you could say I’m a little bitter. I spent countless hours trying to figure out Thinkgate’s clunky software for creating my own assessments thinking in the end it would save me time and save my school money on copies and scantrons. Thinkgate’s software was so user-unfriendly that even after creating ten assessments, it still took me multiple attempts to remember which icons to click (I don’t feel too bad anymore now that I know that the CEO of Thinkgate could not even create an assessment in his own software program, see ex-employee review below) . I am not one to learn software programs by sorting through a 500 page manual. My strategy is to madly click on every icon until I find something that works. Unfortunately, Thinkgate’s icons were incredibly cheesy and random. If you never had the misfortune of using Thinkgate, think back to the software programs of the late 1980s with black screens and yellow font. Thinkgate was a software platform that screamed “Developed for the sole purposes of government bureaucracies. Not to be sold on the free market under any circumstances for fear of consumer ridicule and competition.”

Even though Thinkgate’s software was cumbersome and unattractive, it worked. Since the district never full-filled their promise of installing a server to restrict our students’ Internet usage, I relied on Thinkgate to curb student cheating during tests since it did lock them out if they opened another browser. And since our students have been raised in a world where information is just one click away and gratification immediate, it was nice to be able to let them know their test scores immediately. Now, with one month left in the school year, teachers are left holding the bag.

“Charlotte-based Thinkgate has provided testing software used to administer 150 tests for about 500,000 students statewide for the past five years.

Teachers are now preparing to give students paper tests rather than online exams.

Debbie Parrish, career development coordinator at Broughton High School in Raleigh, said the change will mean a delay of a day or two in getting student scores back.

“In the long run, as teachers, we’re used to making adjustments and making things work,” Parrish said.

Thinkgate’s contract, which paid the company $7.2 million over five years, was to expire at the end of June.” http://www.wral.com/nc-students-to-take-paper-tests-after-online-exam-firm-closes/14622748/

Two things stand out to me from this article. One, teachers have become so accustomed to failures at the top, that scrambling and picking up pieces at the last minute have become just another part of the job. Two, the state of North Carolina was paying $7.2 million over five years for 500,000 students but the Miami-Dade School District was paying $2 million annually for approximately 300,000 students. Seems like we got a bum deal.

The Miami Dade public school system was Thinkgate’s largest customer according to public contractors.com. http://www.publiccontractors.com/Thinkgate/20431.html At first I thought this site was for the purposes of government transparency. But a quick look at the advertisements on this site holding up money bags and stating “81.5% of government purchases are completed without a bid or RFP. Use smart procure to find businesses that others don’t see,” reveals that the purpose of the site is to entice other businesses to discover the untapped gold mines of lucrative government contracts.

This may explain the sudden demise of a company that was created for the purpose of cashing in on the millions in now expired Race to the Top funds. A business model that relies on exploiting stupid government legislation is bound to fail. Now that the evil DOE bunny has run out of carrots and school districts are left holding the sticks, legislation is being passed to circumvent previous Race to the Top grant money inspired legislation. I think it’s more than a coincidence that Thinkgate’s last tweet was sent out in early March, when the Florida legislature was in the midst of passing a bill that would limit the amount of annual testing and eliminate the need for district generated End of Course exams. No doubt the Thinkgate CEO could see the writing on the wall and made plans to dissolve the company. It would have been nice if the company could have at least honored their contracts until the end of the school year. One has to wonder if Thinkgate’s financial situation was so bad it just couldn’t afford to keep its doors open one more month, or if it was a deliberate flicking of the bird to school districts for cancelling future contracts.

This review from a former Thinkgate employee  might provide the best insight on why Thinkgate collapsed. It also simultaneously outlines the inevitable failures of organizations led by incompetent and unethical leaders who’s top down approach ignores both employee input  and the needs of the clients they serve. His review might sound familiar to anyone working in a large public school district (except for the part about free snacks, beverages galore, and new office furniture).

Pros

Unlimited free snacks (candy bars, granola bars, popcorn, nuts), beverages (soda, fruit juice), and coffee. Newly furnished office.

Cons


This has to be one of the most dysfunctional places I have ever worked. While this company does have a good vision; that being building software to empower educators; it quickly stops there. Most of the issues in this company start with the CEO. During my several year tenure there I watched him make countless unethical and tactical decisions that left you scratching your head. Disregarding suggestions from subordinates he constantly went in a different direction thinking his way was the right way. Unfortunately, under his direction he has lead the company into a negative financial situation, built a toxic work environment, an incredibly high employee turnover rate, and frustrated his customers who are leaving in droves.

WORK ENVIRONMENT

Thinkgate used to be an environment that was filled with talented people who cared about each other and their work. However, due to the CEOs constant firing of the C-level executives, mass company lay-offs and the resignation of many key employees this environment no longer exists. The people that are left are either untrustworthy, unethical, and politically motivated individuals or the few of the talented individuals whose spirits have been broken. Many current staff members who have the luxury to work remotely no longer come into the office because of how toxic and depressing it has become. Most remaining managers frequently will be positive to your face while saying negative things behind your back.

PROJECTS

Most work is generated by the CEO and sales team as they continuously over-commit and over-promise what the company can realistically deliver. Many people have mentioned “they bite off more than they can chew” and this is what happens. Sales deals are signed and then project work is given to the development teams with no realistic means to deliver the work on-time. Excessive hours are worked by team members to get features developed and tested, but, corners are continuously cut in order to meet the unrealistic deadlines. As staff members get tired of this and attempt to push back on the CEO they either resign or are fired.

To make matters worse most of the projects I worked on had little or no benefit to the end customer. When the feature is released the support teams are then forced to support a product that the customer does not want to use or in most cases is useless. However, in the end the company receives a paycheck at the expense of their employees and customers.

TECHNOLOGY

Due to years of constant cutting of corners in order to meet sales deadlines the software platform has incurred a technical debt beyond belief. The software is slow, difficult to use, and expensive to maintain. Development managers and teams have attempted to address these issues, but, are eventually stopped by the CEO who would rather push new functionality and instead of resolving open issues for customers.

What is most painful to see is that the C-level executives don’t even know how to do one of the basic fundamental actions in the software, i.e. make an assessment. If they took the time to understand the product they could possibly see how their aggressive and tactical decisions have led to the current state of the product and how in turn it hurts the customer.

Advice to Management


The issues in this company start at the top. Immediately replace the CEO and CTO and replace them with more competent executives that practice strategic thinking instead of tactical decision making. Next direct the focus of the company on the needs of customers. Those being the teachers, superintendents, school administrative staff, and especially the students. Let the customers and their valuable educational experience drive the product and work on helping them instead of hurting them. Finally, implement a better work-life balance that helps employees and their families instead of the current environment that tears them apart.”

http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Employee-Review-Thinkgate-RVW6259859.htm

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