Warning: kafkateach is feeling especially grumpy today. Tuesday night I was up with a dog who was having seizures and flapping his ears against his head uncontrollably every 2 minutes. Wednesday night my 2 year old woke up at 4 am screaming, “I don’t like catepillars” and wouldn’t go back to sleep.  This was followed by 24 hours worth of bad news, insulting comments by school board members, and the regular horrors inflicted upon teachers.  Here are ten reasons a teacher you know, especially a Florida teacher, might be feeling especially ornery today.

  1. The Supreme Court of Florida overruled an earlier court’s verdict that the Legislature’s decision to pass a law mandating that teachers contribute 3% of their salaries to the state pension fund was unconstitutional.  This has amounted to a 3% pay cut for state workers over the past two years and many teachers were expecting to see that money paid back to them when the original judge ruled the law unconstitutional.  Governor Rick Scott appealed the decision and he’s probably uncorking the champagne bottles as I write this. His office put out this bizarre statement after the ruling, “The court’s ruling today supports our efforts to lower the cost of living for Florida families. This means even more businesses will locate and grow in our state, which creates even more opportunities for Floridians to live their version of the American dream,” said Scott in a statement from his office. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/florida-supreme-court-sides-with-state-in-retirement-battle-against-state/1270970 Um…. so balancing the state budget on the backs of public employees is somehow going to lower the cost of living for Florida families and bring jobs to the state? Keep in mind that Floridians pay no state income tax. Keep in mind that if a teacher is fired, laid off or leaves the profession before their 8th year of employment, they will have been forced to contribute 3% of their salary to a fund they can never collect from. With our new evaluation system in which you can be fired solely based on the performance of your students, we can expect many teachers to never make it to year 8.
  2. Speaking of being fired based on the performance of your students, my chances of being fired just went up. I found out at our department meeting that next year all teachers in the social studies department will be forced to teach an American history course so they can be evaluated using their students’ test scores on the American history EOC.  I do not teach American history. I teach Advanced Placement world history.  Next year I will have to fret over teaching a new subject so one set of students can pass a test I’ve never seen.  I will teach 150 AP world history students, but my job will depend on the test scores of my 25 American history students. As much as I hate the idea of being evaluated based on my students’ reading scores, I hate the idea of being evaluated based on a history EOC even more! Students will have to actually study and be capable of memorizing actual historical information to pass the American history EOC.  To pass a reading test, you just need to know how to read-no content knowledge required. If you are a teacher, you know the sad truth that your average student does not study for anything.  Combine the lack of study ethic with a brain that has never even had to memorize a phone number, and history teachers you are doomed! Just the other day I had an honors student tell me, “Miss, I can’t even remember what I ate for breakfast.” It was 7:20 in the morning.
  3. Speaking of breakfast, is there any other profession that is required to eat lunch at 9:30 in the morning? Normally, I get to at least wait until 10:30 in the morning to eat lunch. Today was “Early Release” day.  This is a day where students are released two hours early from school so teachers can engage in a meaningless professional development session they have already sat through 10 times before.  In the past, in order to maximize instructional time, lunch was set at 12:00 on early release days.  Not surprisingly, most students chose to leave the campus rather than stick around for an extra 30 minutes to eat the cafeteria’s sloppy joe’s.  The district complained that they were losing money because students weren’t eating lunch at the school and now they are required to serve two lunches before 12 am. Not only do I hate Early Release days because I have to eat lunch at 9:30 in the morning, but the students come to school acting like chimpanzees that have just been released from the zoo because it’s “Early Release.” We still have an hour of instructional time but students are convinced that teachers couldn’t possibly have enough time to teach them anything. They come to school with no paper or pens and complain, “It’s early release, Miss, we can’t do any work today!” Then it’s off to attend a two hour meeting where you will learn the latest and greatest instructional strategy that you have learned about at every early release professional development session since you started your teaching career. Meanwhile, grades are due at 10 am the next morning.
  4. Speaking of grades being due, you can count on the electronic gradebook not working for at least two days before grades are due. That’s because every teacher in the county is trying to access the system at the same time and the system crashes. Imagine what is going to happen when every student tries to access the computer based Common Core test at the same time. Our fall interim reading assessment data was already botched because the computers kept crashing and the students couldn’t finish their tests. I found this out after spending two hours printing out and pouring over the data so I could figure out their weakest benchmark and noticing the scores were shockingly low. When I asked the students why their scores were so low they explained that half of them couldn’t even get on the computers until the last ten minutes of class and their teacher told them to just bubble in anything. I hope that the $1.2 billion technology bond measure passed by Dade voters kicks in before 2014 when the Common Core PARCC assessment will be administered online to half of the country at the same time.

5.  Speaking of technology, I was reading an article in Ed Week about the Ed Tech bubble bursting. The thought of a bunch of computer dorks in San Francisco losing millionaire status because their stock wealth tanked after investors realized their Algebra app was an even worse instructional tool than your average textbook does not make me grumpy. This statement from the article, however, was rather disheartening, “Though Ms. Roza noted that there’s $600 billion a year in public education funding, she said school districts aren’t going to pay for ed-tech products unless they replace existing functions—such as allowing districts to hire fewer teachers.

I want to grab all these ed-tech people and shake them and say they need to think about how to solve financial problems for districts,” she said. “They can’t be an add-on.”

The danger for education officials in a bursting ed-tech bubble is that schools and districts could be left with empty investments in new technology.

“This would leave educators and administrators with a product they can’t use, with data trapped inside it, and an increasing amount of cost to replace it,” said Mr. Catalano.” http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/01/16/17techbubble_ep.h32.html

So despite what teachers hear about using technology in the classroom to make learning more relevant to our students, school districts really only want to invest in technology if it will help them make teachers irrelevant and save them money.

6.  Speaking of paying for an Ed tech product that leaves districts with empty investments, “the Florida Department of Education terminated a $20 million contract with Infinity Software Development on Oct. 30, about a week after the company filed a lawsuit against interim Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. The dueling public disclosures outlined a bitter dispute in which both sides claim the other acted too slowly and too sloppily on the project.” The software they were developing was supposed to help teachers with the transition to the Common Core standards.  One year out from the implementation of the Common Core assessments, and Florida teachers are left with zero resources and the state will waste even more money battling this Ed Tech firm in court.

7. Speaking of the state of Florida wasting money on worthless technology, data and lawsuits, a short article in Ed Week by an actual scientist shows how ridiculously unscientific VAM really is, “value-added analysis constitutes a series of personal, high-stakes experiments conducted under extremely uncontrolled conditions and reported quite cavalierly.

Hopefully, most experimentally oriented professionals would consequently argue that experiments such as these (the results of which could potentially result in loss of individual livelihoods) should meet certain methodological standards and be reported with a scientifically acceptable degree of transparency.

And some groups (perhaps even teachers or their representatives) might suggest that the individual objects of these experiments have an absolute right to demand a full accounting of the extent to which these standards were met by insisting that students at least be randomly assigned to teachers within schools. Or that detailed data on extraneous events clearly related to student achievement (such as extra instruction received from all sources other than the classroom teacher, individual mitigating circumstances like student illnesses or disruptive family events, and the number of student test scores available for each teacher) be collected for each student, entered into all resulting value-added analyses, and reported in a transparent manner.” http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/01/16/17bausell.h32.html?tkn=MTXFBJetzWdl5jst%2BqjnTXAxUfAlqQJ5K3r6&cmp=clp-edweek

8. Speaking of the need for transparency, the union and the district met on January 10th for closed door negotiations over deciding cut scores for our VAM rankings. Still no word from the union or superintendent as to when these rankings will be released and our evaluations for 2012  finally completed.

9. Speaking of the superintendent, I made the mistake of tuning into NPR and listening to about 10 minutes of the School Board meeting. He used his usual buzz word “innovative” to describe the $14 million of merit pay funds that will be distributed to 20,000 teachers. Last year, I received about $400 (more than my “raise” this year) back in September. This year because it will be based primarily on VAM, we have yet to receive any bonus pay. This will happen supposedly within the month, so let’s hope the last VAM negotiation session went well and kafkateach wins the VAM lotto.

10. Speaking of making the mistake of listening to the school board meeting and pay for performance, principals will now be subjected to varying degrees of pay based on which schools they lead and you guessed it, the school’s reading scores. The lowest paid will make $94,000, the highest paid will make $128,000.  I think principals, for the most part, earn their salaries. The comments made by one board member, however, were disgusting. In typical board member fashion she expressed excessive kudos to Dade administrators, “We don’t have any bad principals in Miami.” I’m sure many teachers would beg to differ. Then she went on to claim, “We know the real weight of a school is carried by the principal, then the assistant principals and also the off site managers.” No mention was made of the grunt work of the teachers who actually work with students and make all those wonderful learning gains that administrators, school board members, and superintendents love to brag about.

If you are a teacher feeling grumpy about anything these days, feel free to leave a comment.