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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pitbull

The latest scandal to hit the 305 involves Mr. 305 himself. In an effort to boost tourism, the state of Florida paid Pitbull one million dollars to produce a video promoting Florida beaches http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article120789508.html. If there is anything Pitbull has done a better job promoting over the course of his career other than himself and his extremely mediocre musical talents, it would be Florida’s beaches. Did we really need to pay Pitbull one million tax payer dollars to make a video of himself rapping on a Florida beach with scantily clad women in the background? I’m no Pitbull expert, but I do believe that every music video Pitbull has ever made already serves as an enticement to come to Florida.  I did an extensive five minutes of research on youtube to see if I could find a Pitbull video that did not feature sexy beaches, beautiful women, palm trees, azure waters and the Miami skyline. If one were to compare Pitbull’s one million dollar Florida taxpayer funded “Sexy Beaches” video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOUQ3kfxEaQ to Pitbull’s  privately funded “Fun” video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKbR7u8J5PU the only difference would be better hair and make up, lighting, and choreography. Otherwise, the Mr.305 formula for success remains the same: pastel suit, palm trees, beach, voluptuous chongas gyrating in tacky one pieces wedged halfway up their buxom behinds waiting to have their turn at a Pitbull pelvic thrust = million dollar hit that is guaranteed to be played in every Zumba class across the world.

Speaking of formulas, how much tax payer money was wasted on the state of Florida value added model for teachers? If you think $1 million for a redundant and ridiculously cheesy Pitbull Florida “Sexy Beaches” video was bad, the Florida VAM cost tax payers $4 million https://facts.fldfs.com/Search/ContractDetail.aspx?AgencyId=480000&ContractId=11812 in addition to a yearly $1.5 million in maintenance fees https://facts.fldfs.com/Search/ContractDetail.aspx?AgencyId=480000&ContractId=16659&Tab=1. At least people can get their groove on while looking at the Pitbull video. The only thing I get from looking at the Florida VAM formula is a migraine headache.

vam-formula-florida

(Florida’s $4 million dollar VAM formula with an additional $1.5 million tax payer dollars wasted in annual “maintenance fees”)

If we are going to complain about the Legislature wasting tax payer funds, then one would also have to include two consecutive years of wasting almost $50 million on the ill-conceived and patently offensive “Best and Brightest” scholarship http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article64674362.html. $100 million down the tubes in two years and it only managed to line a few teachers’ pockets but will do nothing to solve the teacher shortage and perpetually low teacher pay. Let’s just say a bright young teacher comes to Florida to teach so they can cash in on their high SAT scores. What happens the following year when they actually need a highly effective evaluation to get the bonus again? Getting a highly effective evaluation in some schools is liking catching a chupacabra. Not only are you dependent on the benevolence of your administrators for a high score, you then have to wait months to find out what the VAM gods will deem you that year in learner progress. What is it going to do for teacher retention when the young bright teacher with high SAT scores realizes that it is going to take them another 20 years to reach the pay they received in their first year of teaching?

Apparently, Florida is starting to realize they have a problem with a looming teacher shortage that a bonkers bonus program is not going to solve.  A few weeks ago the Florida Department of Education sought educator input in a survey about teacher recruitment and retention. I gave them my thoughts including raising the minimum pay to $50,000, bringing back tenure, honoring the class size amendment and taking a sledge hammer to VAM. Considering Tallahassee’s tendency to siphon off tax payer funds for private enterprise that benefits no one, I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up paying Pitbull another $1 million for a video recruiting educators to come and teach in Florida. Heck, with a little careful editing they could slice and dice Pitbull’s “Sexy Beaches” into a video to recruit young people to come teach in Florida.

Picture this, the opening scene shows a young male teacher in Chicago bundled up from head to toe trudging through slushy snow on his way into school.

Insert clip from  the “Sexy Beaches” video with six tan beauties shaking their booties in the air as Pitbull brags about the fact that in Florida we have beaches AND “hotels.”

The young teacher’s eyes glare up with envy. Damn, he thinks, teaching in Florida does look good. He holds up his $80,000 a year paycheck and tenure and rips it into shreds.

The next scene shows the teacher entering his classroom wearing Bermuda shorts and flip flops with a big smile on his face. When he settles into work a huge palmetto bug crawls across his desk. Beads of sweat start to drip down his face as he struggles to fix the AC in his room. The camera scans across his classroom filled with 42 ESOL level 1 students playing soccer and dancing the macarena in the back of the room. One child is playing with the large rat they’ve adopted as the class pet.

Quick, cut to scene of Pitbull on a yacht surrounded by sexy Latinas pouring champagne down his throat. The camera zooms in and looms over a large behind in a yellow thong. The chorus chants, “Come to Florida, see sexy beaches, hotels.”

The young teacher has just received his first summative evaluation. His VAM, which was calculated using the school wide reading score even though he teaches math, has knocked him down to “Needs Improvement”. He has just seen his pay drop from $50,000 to $40,000 because he no longer qualifies for the Best and Brightest scholarship. His administrator warns him that if he receives another “Needs Improvement” evaluation, he will be fired and the state can take away his teaching certification. His principal tells him not to worry. If he loses his job with the public school district, he can work at Pitbull’s Slam charter school across the bay. His union steward then informs him that he won’t qualify for the measly 1% raise because he didn’t have an effective evaluation. The young teacher heads to the nearest bar to drown his sorrows. He made the mistake of going out in South Beach and receives a $100 bill for two beers and a Pina Colada.

Pitbull gyrates his way across the screen. Making sure to brush his privates against the six back sides which have all assumed the face down button up position inherent in any Pitbull video. The chorus continues to chant, “I want to see….. sexy beaches, hotels.”

Next, the young teacher heads back to his $1500 studio apartment. He has just received a notice from his landlord that his rent will be raised to $1800. He scans the classifieds for a part-time job to supplement his meager teacher pay so he can continue to keep a roof above his head and spend his weekends on sexy beaches. Only now, he will be spending his weekends serving drinks poolside at the Fountainebleau Hotel instead of laying on the sexy beach.

In the grand finale of the music video, the teacher is seen wearing all white and carrying a tray of fruity drinks to Pitbull’s harem lounging around the pool. In the midst of thrusting some new chonga in a flourescent pink one piece with booty escaping on all sides, Pitbull bumps into the teacher waiter and he spills the drinks all over Pitbull’s harem. Two of Pitbull’s gorilla like bouncers drag the teacher waiter off the screen. Pitbull licks the strawberry slushie margarita off of the chonga in pink’s bosom.

The chorus continues to chant, “I want to see…sexy beaches, hotels.”

the-grinch

Kafkateach decided to come out of retirement for one final soliloquy on VAM. In a world where the nightly news features Kayne West visiting President elect Trump at White House North, the absurd has become the new normal and even the nonsense world of Florida’s educational system seems almost rational in the face of national news.

It’s been a rough couple of years for Kafkateach and now standing at the precipice of economic ruin while simultaneously being denied the $10,000 Best and Brightest bonus based on VAM, it was time to attend another School Board meeting despite the recommendations of a former high level district official who, funny enough, happens to be a fan of the Kafkateach blog.

Oh, well, there goes any delusion I had left of keeping this blog anonymous. Somewhere in my mind I had comforted myself thinking this little subversive blog would never be read by anyone working for the district, and they would never be able to find out who I was if I used a pseudonym.  In the name of the holiday spirit and thankful that the district has never attempted to fire my blogging behind, I decided to modify my speech about VAM from naughty to nice. Well, not exactly nice, but not specifically disparaging of my school district either. Instead, I turned my speech to a rant against VAM in the broadest sense.

This was probably for the best because the fight against VAM is not just about me, or my school district, or even the state of Florida. It’s really a broader fight against education policy makers, and those who implement those policies. The people who have never stepped foot in a classroom, who never will step foot in a classroom, and who have clear disdain and indifference towards those teachers and students who they hold accountable all the while depriving them of resources in order to justify their utter uselessness in the real job of educating children.

In the past I have tried to transcribe School Board meetings while simultaneously making them entertaining. That will not be possible in this blog post because this was the mother of all epically long and boring School Board meetings. You people owe me for sitting through four hours of that Chinese water torture just so I could rant about VAM for three minutes on public airwaves. To make matters worse, in the most wired school district in the history of the world, I could not get an Internet connection in the School Board auditorium. Note to self, if I am ever crazy enough to sign up to speak at another School Board meeting, bring a hot spot! After making it through my pile of essays to grade, I started having a  panic attack when I couldn’t get on a wireless network and realized I would actually have to sit there and listen to one item after the next on the seemingly endless agenda without any distractions to keep my sanity. I began to feel like a trapped animal in the cramped seats and periodically went to the bathroom to calm my inner urgings to flee. I would have done laps around the block to kill the time but I really can’t afford to get mugged right now.

It was a war of attrition. They must have been hoping by creating the world’s longest School Board meeting, Kafkateach would give up and go home. It almost worked. Thankfully, the 50 bus drivers they signed up to express their gratitude for being thanked didn’t all show up. One woman even declared that sometimes appreciation was better than a paycheck. I beg to differ. You can keep your mass generated holiday email greeting and send me a big fat check in the mail instead.

At least UTD did their part to keep the meeting short. The President of UTD’s speech was so short I completely missed it when I glanced down at my cell phone to check a text. I would have thought the week after the Miami Herald ran a major story about teacher frustration over their evaluations and VAM, the UTD President might just make it a point to address the issue of teachers losing hundreds to thousands of dollars, and possibly their jobs over these bogus evaluations to the Board. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article119791683.html

I would have thought wrong as UTD leadership never fails to disappoint. But I must say that the President’s wardrobe has definitely gotten an upgrade since she started making the big bucks. You wear six figures well honey.

Speaking of fashion, they must have been having a School Board holiday party after the meeting because all of the women were wearing red with sparkly necklaces, including Kafkateach. The Divine Miss P looked like she may have gotten into the eggnog a little prematurely because I was seriously worried she wasn’t going to make it through the meeting. This woman has definitely sat through one too many School Board meetings. Major props to all the School Board members for being able to sit through 12 hour meetings with hot lights and cameras on your every move.

As the meeting dragged on and on and on, I began to get hangrier and hangrier. As my hanger grew, I became more and more tempted to give the naughty version of my speech. Then at 6:40, ten minutes past the legal limit, the School Board meeting concluded and the public speaker session began. I was hoping for a good showing of teacher speakers to voice their concerns over VAM after reading a deluge of disgruntlement on Facebook, but in typical flaky teacher fashion, it was only me and a teacher I had met over the summer who signed up to speak about VAM. Ironically, I only knew this other teacher because we had both been recruited to present the merits of a district wide Learning Management System to the Superintendent over the summer. My career as a Miami Dade teacher and education blogger has always been filled with synchronicitous moments and this was just another example of that. Over the summer she expressed her dismay over being denied the Best and Brightest bonus because she didn’t get credit for her Freshmen who passed the AP Human Geography exam because they didn’t have PSAT scores. This didn’t make much sense to me at the time, but when I got a shockingly low VAM, I found out the hard way how important PSAT scores are for AP teachers.  I was thankful that at least one other teacher had cared enough about the injustice of VAM to show up to speak. It gave me warm fuzzies and a little more street cred to have another accomplished teacher by my side who had been slammed by VAM.

Finally they called me up to speak, mispronouncing my name three times, but I’m used to that.  As I started my VAM rant, I couldn’t help but be particularly perturbed at the lady in red to my left who was talking rather loudly right next to me at the podium while I was trying to give my speech. I had to stop myself from having a off duty teacher arrest moment where I reprimand an adult for their inappropriate behavior. I mean, what teacher amongst us hasn’t scolded someone at the grocery score express lane for having 11 items instead of 10? I proceeded to read the following speech:

“Good afternoon. I am here today to address the issue of VAM based teacher evaluations. I may not have a PhD in statistics, but I have been reading the works of leading statisticians regarding the misuse of VAM since it entered my lexicon 6 years ago. Stephen Caldas, the former head pyschometrician of Louisiana’s Department of Education, in an article titled “Value Added: the Emperor Has No Clothes” calls VAM a “pyschometric monster” and argues that all value added models designed to evaluate teachers are “pyschometricly unjustifiable”. Caldas notes that VAM’s complexity, its huge margin of error, and the fact that it really measures correlation, not causation, as reasons for not using VAM.

He goes on to state, “To claim that value added models are valid for predicting any individual’s achievement would be like predicting that a specific person is likely to commit terrorism because he or she belongs to some particular religion—justifying the prediction with the fact that there’s a correlation between that faith and committing a terrorist act. ”

The American Statistical Association has come out against VAM and in a victory for all teachers, Sheri Lederman won her lawsuit against VAM in NY State. A legal precedent has been set.

Voodoo algorithms and what most teachers refer to as “Very Arbitrary Measures” of our effectiveness resulted in my loss of the $10,000 Best & Brightest bonus because my VAM score rated me “unsatisfactory” in learner progress even though my AP pass rate was only 2% lower than the district average despite embracing the College Board’s open enrollment policy and having students with low grades sit for the exam.

This year I learned that my students’ PSAT scores were used as predictors of performance on AP exams. PSAT scores do not measure a student’s effort, interest, or academic growth. I do that. I can easily predict which students will pass the AP exam based on their grade. I have never been the type of teacher to put my professional interests ahead of my students’ academic and emotional interests. Unfortunately, due to the unrealistically high expectations imposed on AP teachers, I can no longer afford to place my student’s interests ahead of my own. In the world of VAM based teacher evaluations, my students are not more than a test score. They are now PSAT scores. They are a probability, and potentially a liability.

I love my students but the system stinks. It is time to end the tyranny of the data czars who inflict terror with their esoteric, top secret, ever changing formulas which do nothing but stigmatize and demoralize an overworked and underpaid workforce while they reap benefits at the expense of turning teachers and students into digitized widgets whose behavior is supposed to conform to some correlated norm. VAM is a sham. We will fight against it until we end it and put the humanity back into the teaching profession. ”

It may not have been the storming of the Bastille moment I had been hoping for, but it felt good to get it off my chest and on the public record. I’ve debated putting this speech on youtube because I am a much better writer than public speaker and I don’t want to be embarrassed by single digit viewership. Maybe if I videotaped myself reading this speech wearing nothing but a bikini (at this mature age a sensible one piece with a strategically placed sarong would be more appropriate) with snoring pug puppies and a slideshow of the Elf on the Shelf in sexually suggestive poses playing in the background, I might become an Internet sensation. But I refuse to reduce myself to Christmas Elf porn in order to get people to listen to my VAM speech. Since I no longer have anonymity in writing this blog and after 40, who really gives a hoot what anybody else has to say about you, here is the link to my speech https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBSf2SJ9JNw&t=75s

Highlights from the public speaker session included a former ESE teacher who resigned because she was disgusted by how the district treats its ESE population and the mother daughter duo who always have something good to say. This time they exposed the imposition of the I-Ready computer based reading program. As I parent, I hate the I-Ready program. How am I supposed to finish writing this blog post when I have two kids that are constantly nagging me to get on the computer so they can finish their nightly 30 minute I-Ready homework on top of the ten worksheets they already completed?

Finally, it was my VAM slammed AP colleague’s turn to speak. She began:

“I am very dissatisfied with my VAM score. Since the district model based the expected performance on the PSAT, and 24 of my Freshmen didn’t take the PSAT because they had to pay for it, my outcome was 0.04 and my students average performance 63.6%. If all of my students’ AP scores were included my average performance would be 72.3%.If you counted all of my scores than my VAM ratio would have given me the 35 VAM points I needed to be rated Highly Effective and qualify for Best and Brightest. I only missed it by 0.05 points.

I believe the VAM was discriminatory against teachers like myself who teach an AP class offered to freshman. I trust the district will rectify this matter for me because I really love teaching AP Human Geography and I don’t want to feel like I shouldn’t because of a VAM ratio that is working against me. I only want to receive the score I earned as an AP teacher. This model needs to be talked about. If I taught world history honors I would be HE. $7,000 I did not get because of the VAM.  I’m discouraged. I don’t want to teach AP. This is something that needs to be discussed.  Many teachers like myself were hurt.”

It should be noted that this is what happened to my colleague the previous year. Despite writing emails to top district officials about their problematic VAM model for AP teachers, nothing was done to rectify the situation. The same situation occurred again this year and AP teachers like myself and others lost thousands of dollars due to a faulty model.

The newest edition to the School Board, who’s name I don’t know but even if I did I wouldn’t use it here, began to respond to my colleague’s concern with his smooth voice and his smooth language.

Mr. Smooth: “The notion of VAM has continued to resonate. There is a clear degree of unfairness.  There is a great degree of ambiguity on how the VAM score is derived. As the stakes get higher, it’s getting real: compensation, evaluation, termination and career advancement. I would like a response now or in writing. This is the second speaker on this.”

The Superintendent began his response:

“This is an extremely complex issue. We will continue to hear about this issue. We have the perfect storm as a result of state legislation SB736 which mandates student data be used to drive a certain percentage of a teacher’s evaluation.  The second issue is Best and Brightest. Do we believe that is the best way of rewarding teachers when qualifying data that precedes that teacher’s performance? And then there is the issue of VAM. Four years ago I asked my staff to sit with me and explain the Florida VAM model. I got through it. If we do not understand it, we do not embrace it. It is far too complex and excludes factors that are proven to impact the classroom. For example, it does not count students on free and reduced lunch even though other states include those. The speaker is absolutely right. You’re talking about a subject area, the state never imagined this without clearly understanding how real life really works. I only scratched the tip of the iceberg. The state has improved. There was a time where teachers where being evaluated on teachers they never saw. It impacts a small percentage of teachers. We may have some success at the local level to mitigate its effects. A lot of this is negotiated. The reliance on data that aren’t available based on their grade. I taught AP before VAM. It was hard enough before VAM without the added pressure. It has become a liability.”

Another new addition to the School Board, a woman in a festive green dress and cute flipped blonde hairdo commented:

“I have spoken to countless number of teachers who are having an extremely hard time  understanding their VAM. Teachers giving 150% and not getting the results they deserve. Principals need further training.”

The Superintendent responded:

“Even individuals in advanced training in statistics would have a hard time explaining the formal. It’s exceedingly difficult without a high level of training. By design the VAM lacks certain factors. When this discussion first started state wide, I was a strong opponent of the complexity, lack of transparency in terms of logistics, legitimacy and honesty. It’s very difficult to explain. Once you see the formula you will understand what we mean. The state itself cannot explain it. It will cause more confusion trying to explain it.”

That was an excellent response by the Superintendent. My administrators would kill me if they had to sit through some PD hell session titled “Sensitivity Training for Delivering Employee VAMs: How to Explain the Inexplicable” as a result of my speech.

The Superintendent continued:

“VAM has a demoralizing impact if teachers don’t understand how they received their score. It’s hard to be reassuring. Each year we’ve sat with the union, we’ve been very lenient, we could use it to a great latitude but because of our concern we try to keep the impact as low as possible. We hope will be further refined.”

The Lady in Green: “We hear from you, we feel for you, but some things are beyond our control.”

The New School Board Chair interjected: Understanding the complexity will not help the unfairness. Is there anything we can do legally or legislatively?

The Superintendent responded:

“SB 736 has been litigated on the basis of this issue. The courts have sided with the Department of Education and the legislator.  We can continue to bring these issues. I don’t see this being modified. We can soften the impact of the formula and have the appropriate conversations. Even as I’m saying this, my mouth proceeds my mind. If we know it’s flawed, why do we have to keep doing it?

(Kafkateach interjection, EXACTLY! How can we keep up this charade and penalize educators when nobody believes in the validity of VAM? Even the people who design the models know they have issues. When I had a telephone conference with the Office of Assessment, Research and Data, the district’s lead statistician admitted that there were flaws in the model for AP teachers).

Mr. Smooth continued to advocate for teachers and against VAM:

“There are two ways to be explored. Legislatively and legally. Initially VAM addressed 50%, now it’s 33%, the superintendent referenced collective bargaining as a way to mitigate the impact at the local level. This is a national issue. There’s a big national case in Houston and looks like it’s going to prevail. We have two critical pathways, one at the state level as well as latitude at local level.”

The Superintendent added: “As a public service announcement to our teachers there is an FAQ on the portal that attempts to explain the questions. I am a man of average intelligence. I struggle with understanding the value added formula. Read the document. We can try to be more successful explaining something that is inexplicable.”

The Lady in Green: “They are cognizant but it is difficult to understand.”

And then the great discussion of Miami Dade teacher VAM scores of 2016 ended. I was satisfied. I felt it was a win-win for everyone. I got to rant against VAM on public airwaves without pissing anyone off, my colleague had her concerns about AP teacher VAMs addressed, the new School Board members came across as concerned and informed about VAM, and the Superintendent was on the record for disagreeing with VAM and recognizing that VAM’s complexity causes it to be a problematic system for teacher evaluations. We may not have come up with any solutions for how to end VAM, but the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that the problem exists in the first place. Mission accomplished.

The Superintendent even walked over to my colleague and myself later on to express his concern for our situation. Then when I questioned him on what he planned to do about 9th graders not having PSAT scores, the woman sitting in front of me the entire time spun her ahead around 270 degrees and interjected, “I can answer that question. I’m (insert the name of the head of the Office of Assessment, Research and Data).” It was like a scene out of the Exorcist.

Here I was, face to face with the Queen Bee of Accountability in Dade County. I have bombarded this woman with a daily deluge of emails regarding the invalidity of her model and VAM in general since I received an 8.5 from her office and lost my Best & Brightest bonus two weeks ago. I’m sure I’m referred to around the office as, “that crazy VAM obsessed b*tch” which would not be an entirely inaccurate description of me-just ask my husband.

She went on to state, “We are pursuing the possibility of using 8th grade FSA scores as the academic covariate for ninth grade AP students.”

Fair enough. I asked her if she would let us know when her office had decided which academic covariate they would be using for my VAM. I don’t want to be researching their PSAT scores if the office is using their 8th grade FSA scores instead. She dismissively responded to my question, “Why do you care?”

“Because I just lost $10,000 because of number generated by your office,” I explained.

Data czars indeed. Totally removed from the realities of the classroom, content with their cushy six figure jobs and indifferent to the plight of the people they castigate with their numbers. I’m sure between my emails and this blog post I am ensuring myself an 8.5 in Learner Progress for the rest of my career. And what’s to stop them? There is no accountability, transparency, or appeals process for VAM scores. They can dictate that you are an 8.5 and that’s it. End of discussion.

After this encounter, my colleague and I were eager to get home to our three kids and finally eat something. As I drove home through Miami’s Design District I couldn’t help but ponder, “What kind of marketing sicko decides to place shops designed for the 1% in the middle of a third world ghetto? Who can feel good about themselves after purchasing a Louboutin handbag that’s value is more than the entire net-worth of all the people living within a half mile radius of the Design District?”

Realizing that despite my exhaustion I would have to wake up at 3 am to hide that damn Elf I pondered what kind of marketing sicko thought the Elf of the Shelf tradition was good idea? The holiday season is stressful enough without having to wake up every morning at 3 am a month before Christmas to find a witty hiding place for a 6 inch doll with a creepy look on her face.  Now my 8 year old daughter complains if the Elf is hiding in a lame spot without a funny position or hasn’t eaten her cookie she left behind for them or doesn’t write a note. I live in a 1400 sq ft house. I have room for one damn shelf in the whole house.

I have always loved Miami at night. One of the things I miss about my life before being a parent, is being out at night in Miami. There is something about the neon lights which turn the low clouds a mysterious hue of pinkish grey and balmy breezes that I’ve always enjoyed. Even driving through the poorest neighborhoods in Miami, you see beautiful Christmas light displays with cheerful inflatables. There is a spirit of hope imbedded in Miami’s immigrant communities that I’ve always admired. When I pulled up in my driveway, I watched my children play inside my house from the car. Feeling like the worst mom in the world because I hadn’t seen them all day and missed my son’s Cub Scout awards ceremony to speak at a School Board meeting about VAM. I felt waves of anxiety when I thought about how I would pay the Christmas credit card bills when they came due in January or how much longer I could keep a roof over three kids heads on a very low teacher’s salary in a very expensive city. When I walked towards my house, my kids opened the door and ran towards me chanting, “VAM is a Sham! VAM is a Sham!”

It’s a wonderful life indeed.

yugo

It has been a dreary and rainy weekend in Miami. It’s beginning to feel like Seattle, only thirty degrees warmer. Miami is great in sunny weather, but when the skies turn grey, there ain’t much to do in this town. Even with Art Basel going on, Kafkateach is starting to get cabin fever. Even if I had the money, the time, or the inclination to go to an Art Basel event, now I would have to fear getting stabbed by a crazy female artist armed with an exacto knife.

In true pretentious artsy-fartsy style, the patrons of the exhibit were extremely slow to react to the young woman spewing blood from her neck because they thought it was performance art! The stabber is quoted as saying, “I had to kill her. I had to watch her bleed.” In the photo accompanying the article, she looks like she’s posing for a Vogue fashion shoot instead of being booked for attempted murder. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/miami-beach/article48177055.html

All of this week’s random violence has got Kafkateach wondering if the world has gone insane. Then after reading an article in the Tampa Bay Times about the Florida House Education Committee meeting to devise legislation to make the nationally ridiculed SAT based “Best and Brightest Scholarships” permanent, I had my answer. Yes, indeed, the world has gone insane and leading the pack are Florida Republican legislators. If there is to be an end of days, it will no doubt start in the Tallahassee legislature. This is an actual quote from a Florida Republican legislator regarding Best and Brightest:

“We want to open up the hood and see what’s under there,” Legg said Tuesday, indicating continued concerns with the model. “Is this a Porsche? Or is this a Yugo?”

http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/floridas-controversial-teacher-bonus-based-on-sat-scores-returns/2255954

Is this guy a friggin’ mechanic or a legislator? If Senator John Legg seriously needs to ask this question, I can easily assume he did not score in the 80th percentile of his SAT. I can tell you without even lifting the lid, Best and Brightest is one giant pile of discriminatory stank meant to recruit young teachers for Florida charter schools and ensure a continuing flow of TFA temps for large urban districts. No wonder he wants to lower the minimum SAT score to the top 60th percentile, which will water down the bonus even further.

If you haven’t heard the news so far, the $10,000 bonus is projected to be $8,600. This is still shockingly high and a fat chunk of change for having scored well on one stinking test twenty years ago. I’m assuming next year’s lottery winnings will be much smaller once more teachers have heard about the program and completed the $500 Kaplan SAT Prep course taught by one of their former students. Oh, the humiliation of it all……

All of this said, I may stand to be one of the lucky recipients of this large sum of unwarranted money. Only I have no idea if the district sent my name into the state because the Dade County school district operates under a cone of silence, especially regarding Best and Brightest. First, they waited until the very last minute to inform their teachers and they did so in the Weekly Briefing email knowing that most teachers have that on auto delete . Second, all we had to do was take a photo with our cellphones of our test scores (Photoshop anyone? Hell, even White Out would have probably worked). Third, we received no confirmation that our applications were received or sent on to the state. I even emailed the Human Resources officer in charge of Best and Brightest to ask if teachers would be receiving confirmation that their names were sent to the state. I have received no response and the several other teachers who emailed him also received no response. Is Miami-Dade onto something that other Florida districts are not? Are they hedging their bets that Best and Brightest will be thrown out in court and they don’t want any paper trail that might in some way hold them accountable to teachers who were planning on receiving $8,600 on April 1st?

It would be nice if Miami-Dade teachers were actually able to do some financial planning in advance. $8,600 could be a vacation to Europe for some teachers, help to pay closing costs on a house for others, or perhaps pay for that 2008 Honda Civic they had their eye on. At this point, Miami-Dade teachers have no idea what to expect as annual salaries. Miami-Dade has the vaguest possible salary schedule in the nation posted on their portal. The only information they provide is a minimum of $40,500 to a maximum of $71,000. So a new TFA teacher may start off making nearly $50,000 if they were the recipient of Best and Brightest, only to get their first effective evaluation and a ten thousand dollar pay cut the following year. How does anyone plan their financial future around that? How does anyone plan their financial future around a pay schedule that may give them a raise of 0-4% in any given year but does not guarantee them any financial advancement at all?

By attempting to make the insanity of Best and Brightest a permanent fixture of teacher pay in Florida, the Florida House Education Committee is relegating a massive portion of the state’s teachers to a perpetual underclass of poor test takers, who no matter how hard they work and perform in the classroom, will continuously make thousands less than their peers all because of one test that was designed to determine success in college and has failed in it’s ability to determine even that. Either these politicians are legally insane, or they just don’t give a damn.

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It is rare that I both start my day and finish my day listening to UTD on NPR. The morning began with a UTD advertisement on NPR asking people to get on the bus to attend the rally in Tally in January. I was under the impression that the buses were designated for educators to attend the rally, but UTD is now offering any warm body a seat on the bus. This leaves Kafkateach wondering who exactly is going to end up on that bus with these types of ads on NPR? Can anyone just show up and get a free ride to Tally that day?

It had been hinted to on Facebook that UTD would be attending the School Board meeting in mass so Kafkateach made sure to tune in for this historic event. UTD leaders are notoriously absent most times when their names are called to the podium (actually they were absent this time as well, but they did manage to send a bunch of executive board members down to do their bidding). So what pressing educational issue did these UTD teachers sign up to speak about? You guessed it, they signed up to talk about UTD and all of the amazing services it provides to teachers. I’m used to staff meetings when the only thing discussed by UTD is UTD and important issues impacting teachers and public education go completely unaddressed, but now I had to listen to the UTD sales pitch at a School Board meeting? And they wonder why teachers complain that UTD functions more like a membership drive than a union.

The following will be my attempt to provide a transcription of what occurred at the historic December 2nd MDCPS School Board meeting as most Miami Dade teachers were probably glued to CNN watching the crazy nut job/ISIS inspired shooting de jour unfold on TV. The daily barrage of mass shootings makes Kafkateach want to ask Santa for a bulletproof vest and combat gear for Christmas. Speaking of Christmas, my children decided that tonight was the night I had to read every Christmas book in the house to them during the School Board meeting so this transcription is going to be very sloppy!

First up is Sara Hays, a woman who has taken on the Super several times regarding the lack of a legally mandated performance pay schedule. Sara starts by reading the state statute and recalling the press releases regarding “a new era of education reform” and the ability to attract our “best and brightest” to the teaching profession. She ends with her disillusionment:

“How reassured I felt thinking my sixty hour work week would finally pay off. How foolish I feel now. A performance pay schedule did not happen. Our new contract obliterates steps but offers no incentives for performance pay. I have written numerous emails to UTD and district and received no response.”

Next up, a very long, boring, and confusing discussion about something called “quorum.” Not being up to date on fancy School Board Latin lingo (the Roman, not Miami, variety), I had to Google what the heck they were talking about.

“quo·rum

ˈkwôrəm/

noun

  1. the minimum number of members of an assembly or society that must be present at any of its meetings to make the proceedings of that meeting valid.

Ms. Perez brought the issue up because about four members of the board had disappeared from the dais once the public hearing portion of the meeting began. Most noticeably absent was Mr. Feldman, who miraculously appeared at the very end of the meeting after a speaker mentioned his name (of course she was reprimanded for doing so).

Perz: “Is there no requirement for quorum?”

Lawyer Man (Regalado will refer to him as “Walter” throughout the meeting): “A meeting is defined as two or more board members.”

Perez: “If we don’t have quorum, we don’t have the public hearing?”

Lawyer: “Traditionally the board has maintained a quorum to take official action.”

Benross-Mindingall: “In brevity Mr. Attorney, can you tell us when we absolutely need to have quorum?”

Lawyer: “In order to take action you need a quorum.”

Benross-Mindingall: “Being that I’m a learner, give it to me in cursive or manuscript.” (I’m assuming that was her way of saying she would like to see it in writing).

Regalado: “I want to clarify Walter’s point. In order to take action we all need to sit here. Does that mean that we should stop the meeting because we are not in our chairs? For the most part, we’re all here. If we add speakers that are not on the list we need a sitting quorum. There is a quorum present but not sitting on the dais.”

(This conversation went on for another five minutes but I quickly lost interest.)

Next up, the first of many UTD speakers, and the only one to discuss an actual educational issue.

Brian Fertel: “I’m a social studies teacher and member of UTD. I want to address the class size issue in Dade. Back in 2002 the voters passed the amendment. As a civics teacher, students ask “how can a law not be enforced?” I’m sure their parents have the same question. Since 2002 the state has watered the class size amendment down and it doesn’t work the way the voters wanted. UTD has pushed the district and the state to abide by the class size amendment. How can a VAM score be calculated if the class size is not accurate? Students and parents have a right to get the best education. Dade needs to join us in giving our students the best education possible.”

Regalado: “I want to thank the speaker, I love civics teacher (she gives him her best good girl student angelic eye roll). When CSA was passed it was an unfunded mandate. It required enacted legislation. It is an opportunity to speak to students about intent and end result and how we need to do a cost benefit analysis. (We know MDCPS sure as heck did their cost benefit analysis because they saved $49 million last year alone by using the phony baloney school of choice loophole. http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/pinellas-schools-class-size-violations-the-documents/2256111)

When you way the cost, the penalty was less than implementation.

(This is an amazing lesson the School Board member and mayoral candidate is teaching children- only follow the law if it is in your economic best interest! The next time you are pulled over by a cop for speeding, simply explain to him that after a cost benefit analysis, it is cheaper for you to get a speeding ticket than to arrive late to your destination. If you are a young blonde with big boobs, this reasoning might actually work for you. If you are old or male, you’re definitely getting the ticket. If you are young and a minority, don’t try this at all, it may get you shot.)

Regalado continues: “Then Charter schools received an exemption. I agree that we should abide by class size. Instead of looking at this law in terms of a penalty, can the state put forth the FTE that is missing to make the teacher’s salary whole? We stand by UTD every year.”

Another UTD diehard takes the stand: “Listening to program last month I heard half truths about UTD and the district. UTD has been offering PD, saving teachers’ homes (they must be old timers because young teachers in Miami-Dade can’t afford rent, let alone save for a down payment), and offering scholarships. Fed Ingram, Tom Gammon, and Karla Matz have done this. We don’t need to be standing here as teachers bashing ourselves. We need to be positive for students.”

Benross-Mindingall: “Someone up here said it’s about time and you’re better than good.” (this is the first of many compliments Benross-Mindigall will bestow upon UTD speakers)

Antonio White (Wearing UTD lanyard): “I’m one of 25 UTD executive board members. Last meeting you allowed an individual to slander our President in a public forum. I came here to provide a factual analysis. I once read we cannot change the cards we were dealt. As educators we are driven by purpose. A higher purpose to help improve students’ lives. We must stand together for the sake of our community. We are getting beyond bread and butter issues (ain’t that the sad truth). We are advocating for our students because our work environment are our students’ learning environment. In closing, I would like to urge educators to get involved . You are the union (unless you are Thais Alvarez, in which case your UTD application will be rejected).

Mindy Grimes: “I am a teacher and proud UTD member on the executive board. I have students that are dealing with so much, I am dealing with students who are having issues. We have students dealing with suicide issues in the fifth grade. We have students living in shelters. It is overwhelming. The one constant that we have is UTD (sigh… here comes the sales pitch). Whether it is professional development, UTD is at the forefront. One of these issues is health care. Teachers thanking me for having their healthcare costs go down.”

Andrew Benatti: “I would like to donate my time to Liz Hernandez.”

Lawyer man: “There are provisions against speakers donating time when they just show up to donate time. The intent of the policy is not being used. They are signing up just to donate time. The board may decline his request. He signed up to speak. ”

Andrew: “I can’t change my mind?”

Perez: “This is not a conversation. The leeway is for extraordinary circumstances.”

Liz Hernandez: “Why change the rules now? We’ve been doing this the last two board meetings.”

Regalado: “It’s important that we as a board discuss this. We have policies and we have practice. The practice of donating time that we’ve been doing for the last two meetings, started four years ago when we had a lot of well attended meetings on specific issues. With the MAST expansion we had a meeting. Are we going to listen to 100 speakers say the exact same thing or are we going to allow them to donate their minutes?

(I’m no mathematician, but I do believe that if you have 100 speakers speaking for three minutes and they decide to donate their minutes to another speaker, the speeches will still last the same amount of time)

Regalado: “We started the practice of donating time to expedite the discussion. The opposite has been happening at our meetings. We didn’t want to chill speech. We just didn’t want people to hear the same thing over and over again and have the public say, “Oh, a school board meeting who listens to that stuff?” (they’re saying that anyway honey). We are at a point where we need to codify our practice. The conversation is about items that have already come before the board, specifically about the UTD contract. We voted about it, we as a board cannot take action. I will give you my opinion, if you believe the Board acted inappropriately the remedy is to sue us. (I believe this action is currently being pursued)

At this point, this Board cannot undue it. I understand your frustrations, but I have limitations. People are emailing us but we cannot undue what we have already done. As we move forward, I want to ensure people are coming to speak to us. It starts to appear orchestrated. We are at a tipping point on this. I think it is proper for Walter to draft something. I don’t want a back and forth. I think it’s an opportunity to codify our practice. At our next meeting we will have a detailed explanation. This board is overly generous. We always allowed people to speak and donate time and it’s getting out of control. It’s starting to impact the meetings. I don’t want people who listen to think this is orchestrated (anybody who has ever listened to a School Board meeting knows it’s more orchestrated than the New York symphony. It’s friggin’ Kabuki theater!)

Regalado: “We respond to emails, we have staff. We can all agree to disagree. We can take it up with Walter. There was a purpose and we have lost sight of why we started this practice.”

Karp: “Hopefully we can resolve this right now. I don’t believe that the MAST teachers came with the intent to donate time. Today this is a different experience. This board is very generous. Never wanting to deny anyone the opportunity to speak. Everybody here is very respectful. I would like to ask Mr. Harvey to repeat the language you read. Apparently this is in board policy.”

Harvey: “Policy # 0169.1 sub paragraph F substitution for scheduled speakers will not be allowed except in extraordinary circumstances.”

Karp: “Will not be allowed is very straight forward. This gentleman drove over here to speak. He should speak.”

Liz : “But I wrote my speech thinking I would have ten minutes?”

Perez: “This is not a debate.” (I really need to start using that line in my classroom).

Andrew’s speech on the fly: “I’m a middle school math teacher. Students have been taking tests all week. Right now it’s taking two block periods to complete. That takes up class time. I’m not sure what kind of data you are getting from the tests. The kids don’t care. They’re Christmas treeing everything. If everything is designed to be on the computer, why wasn’t this test designed more like the FSA? What kind of data are we getting from highly unreliable tests? What about our Internet connection? In the real world, it is not like 24. After this test, they still have to take another i-ready test. And My Learning Plan? Can a high school student design the website for free next year? (perhaps my favorite line of the evening).

The Superintendent: “Normally I don’t comment because it’s not a dialogue. But I need to clarify misconceptions. Either we are a system with laws, or we are not. Selectively choosing which ones we follow is wrong (Did he really just say that? The leading class size violator in the state of Florida and the leader of perhaps the only district to not enact a performance pay schedule, is going to lecture us about the importance of following the law?)

With the chair’s permission, we will intermittedly interject the truth. If something is outside of the control of the board, the issue will not be addressed.”

Regalado: “This Board has spoken about this on several occasions. At this point to say we are the promulgators of computer based testing is wrong. We are not. Our speakers must understand state mandates are issued without our input. Nobody asks us what we think (we know exactly how you feel). They give us the test, we administer it. Vendors are chosen by the state of Florida.”

Karp: “I appreciate what Regalado said. But not everybody knows what is state regulated and what is the Board regulated. In fairness to the speaker, we can point someone in the right direction. He comes with a legitimate grievance who sees the issue with computerized testing and he’s dealing with it everyday and it’s frustrating. Maybe it’s not the appropriate setting, but it doesn’t mean his concern is not legitimate. Ultimately they are here because they want to solve a problem.”

The Superintendent: “If there is a connectivity issue in your classroom, we have email, call your principal. If your Principal doesn’t resolve the issue and we address it, then somebody will call and say we took negative action on the principal. (Growing visibly angry) We’re not stupid. We know when we’re being played. I’m not going to stop being Superintendent tomorrow. We are not stupid. This platform should not be used for political gain for anybody (except for UTD and School Board members). If you want an issue addressed, let’s talk about it. If someone calls the Miami Herald to verify an issue than expect us to address it. That visit is part of the expectation. These are not just speeches, it is a public hearing. It is not an exchange. It is a hearing. Conditions have not changed but intent has changed.

When I am emailed directly, I address the problem. I call the Principal and ITS to fix connectivity (OK, note taken. I am going to stop submitting HEAT tickets when I have technology issues and directly email the Superintendent instead). I donate my sick days to teachers. It’s clearly written in English posted on portal in two other languages. If we need to provide private tutorials, we will (this was not said in a helpful tone but an extremely condenscending one). I will provide direct tutorial session. And by the way, I can go teach the math class. We understand about reliability and validity. (Don’t ever question the Superintendent’s math skills, that makes him really angry. He knows a lot about averages. I would love it if the Superintendent showed up and taught middle school math using the tablets in a room with connectivity issues for a month. I would love it if he had to live on a teacher’s salary in Miami for a month with two kids in daycare. Let’s see if his math is good enough to figure out how to provide for your family when your rent equals your take home pay).

Unless somebody was asleep or out of the county when we raised a position against too much testing, it seems counterproductive to ask us to do what we have already done. There has never been an email that has been sent to me that I have not directly acted to (unless it’s from a person with the last name Alvarez).”

Regalado: “We want to make sure the Board is hearing factual information. “

A UTD Steward (who was not sent by UTD and who did not come to give a UTD sales pitch) takes the podium:

“What is the School Board doing to reduce stress among teachers? There is a vicious cycle. It’s hard to stay sane and teach. Fill out forms and copy receipts to validate what we spend on our students. Especially if you shop at dollar stores. Substitute teachers are scarce and classes are being split. I could go on further. The higher stress levels cause illness or they will choose to ignore it as a defense mechanism. I have a three year- old son but it costs a lot of money and it was difficult for us when my son was born because we had to pay $2,000 out of pocket. He was born premature and it cost another $2,000. We have to pay $80 a week for language therapy. Our job is to care for children but it is hard to do that when we have to care for our own children too.

Hantman: You’re time is up. (Bah humbug, the Board doesn’t have time to listen to your Tiny Tim story)

 Howell (another UTD speaker): “I’m an American government teacher. I want to thank the superintendent for what he has done to help Miami North Western. I want to thank the School Board members for their civic leadership. I’m here to say that UTD is my professional organization. I’m here to help public education of our students in spite of our difficulties. We come to teach Miami. UTD works to protect Miami and Miami Dade public schools. UTD has negotiated free health care options when most districts do not. We are here to let everyone know of opportunities to take professional development (they keep selling UTD PD as well. I don’t need my union to offer more professional development. The district offers enough of that already).

I’ve been to the NEA, AFT and FEA conventions and it has enhanced my professional development. UTD is not here to hinder the educational process but to enhance it. We don’t want to fight. We want to enhance each other. (I just want somebody to enhance my  damn paycheck!) I hope to see educators go to Tallahassee next month.”

Hantman: Sir, you can wrap it up if you wish.

Liz Hernandez: “I need to find out about the policy that states a person can only come up once. Why can’t they come up a second time? The board wasted 7 minutes to deny me 3 minutes. This shows lack of courage. Then I kept hearing, I cannot talk to the attorney. We should feel welcome to be here and not be made to jump through hoops and limit what we have to say. Teachers that waited 3 years with no increase, those teachers lost 5,000 every year! Cutting this large increase would save a lot of money. Isn’t the number one priority paying teachers? Is shafting teachers a good way to save the budget? We cannot just say that Miami Dade pays teachers more. We also collect more taxes. Let’s compare taxes. The money is there and we know it. For a large urban district, Miami Dade’s is an embarrassment (AMEN!).

Perez: “I always want people to be able to speak as much as possible. But if I am not mistaken, did the attorney not read something about no applause? I don’t have a problem with applauding. What’s the point of doing it if we allow applauding? I will sit here and listen, however, if we are at a meeting if certain decorum is required, we ask for that decorum. If you allow people to applaud for good things you should allow them to applaud for bad things. If that is our policy, we should abide by it. There has to be some decorum. Is that not what the attorney said?”

Hartman: “I have to be the enforcer but I don’t want someone upset at me so you all have to decide. For me, it disrupts the meeting. I will not allow clapping. You can raise your arms. Clapping is not allowed.”

A teacher who wants to donate her minutes to Thais Alvarez takes the stand: “I cannot donate my minutes? It’s regarding charter schools and she is speaking as an attorney.”

Hantman: “This is not permitted. You can speak.”

(Thais gives the teacher her speech to read).

Thais’s speech: “Tax dollars are used to fund private charter schools. Many of these dollars are used by politicians who run charter schools. Erik Fresen, for example…

Hantman: “Don’t use names. Charters are determined by the state.”

Thais’s speech: “School Board members are benefiting from charter schools. Let’s connect the dots. How can there be money for charters if this board claims there are no funds to pay teachers? Why is the board giving dollars to charter schools? This board will say they must comply with state law. But Florida constitution trumps state law. Washington state stipulated that charters are illegal. In the Nov. 18th board meeting, the board is not complying with statute to pay for performance pay or maintain a step schedule. Why do they need to comply with the state law to fund charters?

Regalado: “I know we don’t like to engage. But we said earlier we would step in. Of course we are going to say Florida statute created charter schools. It has been part of our legislative priority. Last year a bill was filed to create a standard application and we fought it vehemently. We have been trying to maintain authority. I understand that some people may be under the impression that it is unconstitutional but case law has determined it’s legal. As a point of clarification, this has been highly litigated and if it has been found to be constitutional . Florida is the birth place of charter rights.”

Hantman: “The 90 minutes for public hearing has expired. It’s up to the board.”

Karp: Does that 90 minutes apply to everybody or just to speakers? (Good question!)

Hantman: “The 90 minutes goes to us as well. The 90 minutes should be specifically counted for public speakers.” (Thank you Ms. Hantman!)

Perez: Extend it.

Hatman: From now on, I don’t know how the clock works. Not when we speak because that takes time from the 90 minutes.

Perez: That would mean we can only entertain 30 speakers. We should allow all the speakers.

Hatman: We can play it by ear. (so much for codification).

Navarro: Since you clarified the issue, include that Mr. Harvey. Make sure the clock stops when we speak.

Benross-Mindingall: I have to include the fact that I have had a little bit of training. Listeners need to understand we teach children about children and we want to be fair. We need to have rules before we get here. So all will be aware and we are not looking puzzled. We can’t make changes in midstream. We need to know if it is a policy or not. We are not perfect and many of us have been teachers.

Castillo: “I’m really happy all of you are here. It’s great to hear from you. I’m sitting here listening to you and I’m looking back at the audience, most of the time when the district is responding and you are not listening. How do we get information to the staff? Do we know how teachers salaries are funded? These are our employees and they are so misinformed.”

(Yes, we are misinformed. Because the district does a very poor job of informing their employees! I wasted an hour on the phone trying to find out why I couldn’t make changes to my health care enrollment, only to finally have someone tell me the program didn’t work in Google chrome and that I needed to use Explorer. You would think they could have mentioned that in an email!)

The Superintendent: “When I hear questions about charters and the FSA, these are rhetorical questions. With regards to questions about salary and collective bargaining, they understand but they disagree. There is a disagreement with the outcome. We don’t have the power to overturn what was negotiated. There was an intent for years at this board to help a majority of teachers who felt left out of salary increases. It took a decade to depart from $150 step increases. That was an insult to me. There was a slew of emails I used to get (I think I sent a few of those). They understand but they are in disagreement. Those teachers still saw more money than other teachers. But I understand their frustrations (says the man who has been living on a $300,000 salary for the last 8 years). There is no way of fixing it without coming up with a fair way of providing compensation. That what was negotiated. There is a process to overturn it as Ms. Regalado stated. There is an entity with which we negotiate with (blame UTD if you don’t like it teachers). If someone was waiting three years for the large step, I understand their frustration. Can you please spread the wealth? That’s what we negotiated. It’s a disagreement with the outcome. The union and the majority teachers decided this was a fair outcome.

(I would really like to know what percent of UTD members are teachers and what percent are support staff. I’m not sure a majority of TEACHERS actually thought it was a fair outcome. I love my support staff, but ya’ll need to get your own union. I don’t think support staff should be voting on teacher salary schedules).

We know how that step schedule was constructed. Anyone who is honest, knows why it was constructed the way it was. Who was a teacher in those years when those steps were negotiated?

(I’m going to have to agree with the Superintendent on this one. I used to wonder who was to blame for our wonky step schedule. Was it the district or UTD? I’m pretty confident at this point that UTD was the entity responsible for my $300 raises for the last decade. The district hands over a pot of cash to the Union every year and it is up to UTD to distribute it among teachers. Our step schedule sucked and it needed to be changed, but that doesn’t mean that it should have been thrown out entirely and teachers who wanted to stay on the previous schedule since it was in their best interest should have been allowed to do so).

Wanting to continue that injustice is a mystery to me. This was done in the spirit of fairness. They understand, but they are dissatisfied. It’s a philosophical disagreement.

We all know about charter schools but we are as far as you can be geographically from Washington state (he’s good at geography too!). Law in Washington has no bearing in Florida. That’s the truth.”

Another teacher takes the stand who wanted to donate time to Thais: “Ms. Alvarez would you like me to read what your wrote?”

Hantman: “I think if people come up to speak. They should be prepared with what they have to say.”

The savvy teacher continues: “I appreciate your comments (and then she continues with Thais’s speech)

Thais’s Speech: “Funding for charters but not enough for teachers. Wouldn’t it make more sense to use tax dollars to pay teachers and support public schools than private charters? When government officials call to change the constitution something is up.”

Hantman: “The issue of charters has been explained several times. But obviously you’re welcome to say what you want to say.”

Benitez takes the stand: “It looks like nothing is going to change. I didn’t have a speech prepared. I was driving over here thinking, am I wasting my time? We’re not happy with the pay. Whatever happened with the steps? It helps us to know how we are going to be compensated in the future. I hope more good teachers can stay and our teachers are going to get compensated. I want to come to school and feel like we’re getting a raise.”

Hantman: “The contract has been signed and there is nothing we can do. The majority agreed to that.”

Benitez: “That’s the part I don’t understand. I just hope it changes.”

Hantman: “There is nine of us. If 5 agree to something, the other four have to live with that decision. We want to give teachers what they deserve but there is a contract.

Another teacher takes the podium: “I want to see the details of how my money is used. I want to see the details.”

Regalado: “When we do our budget it is comprised of three documents. The third document, you can request it is a public document. One of the things we try to explain to our teachers. We have different funding structures and some of our funding is restricted. What percent of budget is spent on salaries?”

Accountant: “85% is spent on salaries. Millage and capital funds are restricted. Chief financial officer can show them how to locate our website where it is listed vendor by vendor.”

Castillo: “I’m glad speaker spoke about transparency. The dashboard is a available to entire public. Where is the money be spent? You can go to gob.dadeschools.net.”

Thais: “To learn who rules over you, realize who you are not allowed to criticize. I am completely appalled. We are very moved and shaken by unnecessary restrictions. I’m sure many people have clapped when you’ve had your dog and pony show. I truly do not understand. I have a letter dated Nov.12th, teachers at my school sent emails soliciting attendance for happy hours and Marlins games. But I cannot send an email to solicit teachers to come here? You do not want us to come here. For those of you listening, I’m sure you are appalled at home. People have private messaged me, “Wow, you are not we need.” Mr. Feldman made a comment about my mom at the last meeting…

Hantman: “I prefer you not use names. The rules are the rules.”

Thais: “It was years of service that were taken away. Teachers take notice of what’s going on here.

Feldman: (Where did he come from? He’s been absent from the dais the entire meeting. Mention his name and the guy magically appears). “I can assure you my reference was to a woman that was here defending her daughter. My parents have been gone for three years. When someone stands here defending their child, it reminds me of my mom. I apologize if anyone misinterpreted it.”

Perez: “I want to thank for Ms. Alvarez for her courage and her zeal. I hope you do take notice. I think we share the same values. We want to help our students and value our staff. Everyone one of us wants to hear what you have to say.

We have thanked you and tried to clarify things. I hope you do take notice. It is very difficult. This is all about money. There are many issues that this discussion entails. Taxation, what the state allocates. I hope you understand all of the steps. We had to approve the contract.”

Thais: “May I answer. Why can you speak and we can’t? You have unfettered time. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Perez: “We have limits so all the speakers can speak.”

The Fabulous Perdomo mother/daughter team takes the podium wearing “Drop UTD” T-shirts. Isabella is told she cannot donate her time.

Isabella: “I’m amazed that this problem with donate minutes keeps occurring.”

Jackie Perdomo abruptly tries to shorten her speech: “I’m so pleased to see the turnout today. At the November board meeting a few courageous speakers spoke before and they received the lengthy responses. Board members are there to hear the public. It was very unfair and reflects a corrupt administration. Let’s address fairness. Is it fair that our superintendent is one of the highest paid in the nation while our teachers are some of the lowest? How is it that my salary is only $3000 more after 16 years! It is a disgrace for all of the hard working teachers. My pay stub doesn’t lie. I am making less today than I would have ten years ago. My daughter said she doesn’t want to speak because the board doesn’t listen or will rebut everything I say and make me look stupid like they did to that lady. I’m asking the board to create a forum where teachers can be heard (I think this is a fantastic idea. Teachers have no voice in Dade. No way to communicate their frustrations other than to speak at the School Board meetings.) I am asking to be valued.”

A teacher with a great accent and a great chart takes the podium: “It is inaccurate to say that only 14% of teachers were effected negatively. Our salaries have been decimated for years. I made a chart calculating the increase from 2014 to the current one. There was a nominal increase for 30% of teachers. Palm Beach County shows both calculations (step and performance) and shows employees their future earning potential. Dade employees see only a minimum and a maximum without seeing any future path. Employees have a right to be able to know how much they will make in the future. Chart 2 demonstrates the step increase that were less than 2%. This is less than inflation. This is not a raise. This is a nominal increase.”

Hantman: “Time is up.”

Chart man: “That’s OK. I can come back next time.” (PLEASE DO!)

Another teacher not wearing a UTD lanyard takes the stand: ‘The past couple of months when I started listening to board meetings, I feel disrespected as a teacher. We are not given enough time to express ourselves. I came here thinking you can do something for us. What is the purpose of the school board if you say we cannot do anything for us? I am worried about my children, and grandchildren. It is very scary what is going on. That you limit us. I adored the superintendent. We all know who he is? Why can’t we say his name? I felt so good when he became Superintendent. My eyes are now open. I feel very sad now. I will come three minutes by three minutes and I will be heard three minutes by three minutes!”

Hantman: “Your time is up.”

Charles Carr (wearing UTD lanyard): “I’m a Carol city elementary teacher. I started after the school year started. That became my classroom. My father was a teamster. I understand the value of a union. I wouldn’t have made it through my first week without the union. My union stands up for me everyday. The focus of a teacher should be making their kids better everyday. I was very proud of Karla Matz when she filed the lawsuit. I’m proud to be a member of my professional organization. I ask the Board to keep our eyes on our kids. Teachers are disrespected everyday and I know I wouldn’t be able to do that without my union.”

Mauricio Restrepo (also wearing a UTD lanyard but not sent by UTD): “I came to speak about the tablet situation in my classroom. I will say I love the tablets, I am never going back! However, there are major problems with their repair. I don’t know the intentions of why everyone is here, but some people speak to share experiences and to get things done at a systemic level instead of an endemic level. I’m here because I’m a steward. I love UTD despite how they have treated me lately. It is very difficult to bring change in anonymity. You have to go out and speak publicly. They came. They showed up. There are no other intentions. I put a challenge to my teachers, if you come to speak at a Board meeting, I will be there with you. You will never be alone. If you decide to go to Tallahassee, I will drive with you. I will fight for you and for this profession!”

Regalado: “I’m your school board member. I am happy to speak to you about tablet issues. I know a lot of teachers have been asking about the facilities. I know they are complaining about traffic. I met with the mayor, of course that’s very easy for me (giggle, giggle).”

Yet another UTD salesman: “Congress is preparing to vote to modify NCLB. UTD has been lobbying very hard to get it to pass (I have been reading the modification may be even worse than the original so if it turns out to be another big bag of stink, we can blame UTD for this as well). Who is left to implement these policies? Our teachers and our district. I want to just remind you that in the midst of implementing all of these policies it does take away from teaching. Documenting teaching supplies, DPGT or whatever it’s called, and navigate a software program to document our professional development. It is the United Teachers of Dade that solves these problems! The union provides support directly to teachers and it often doesn’t get pointed out. I want it to be understood we do not think all of these policies are sound. It’s only by working together that we have prevented additional bad laws to get passed.”

Valerie Johnson: “I’m an executive board member representing support personnel. I have been a proud member of UTD for 11 years. Three minutes will not allow me time to express the diligence of our current leadership. Our union president has made sure our school personnel have been recognized with respect when we were told there were zero dollars at the table. I encourage anyone who is doubtful of current leadership to make themselves more involved in meetings, rallies. Ask not what your union can do for you, but what you can do for your union! (JFK must be rolling over in his grave. We pay our unions very substantial dues to do something for us. Not the other way around).

Benross-Mindingall: “I must compliment you on your oration. Did I get that right? I know I did.”

(I need to interject a Kafkateach rant at this point. Did a school board member really just compliment this speaker’s speech? After reprimanding other teachers for wasting the board’s time for speaking about issues that are not items issues that the Board is directly addressing, a UTD saleswoman get’s complimented! By allowing UTD to take over the public hearing to promote UTD the Board is setting a dangerous precedent. Maybe I’ll attend the next Board meeting just to discuss what an amazing teacher I am and promote my blog? Perhaps local business people will catch on to using the public hearing portion of the School Board meeting as an opportunity to hawk their wares and sign up to speak about their empanada shop.)

Angie Gonzalez: “Are bargaining sessions open to the public?”

Superintendent: Yes they are.

Gonzalez: “Thank UTD for improving the evaluation system. UTD has improved this system.”

Tom Lander: “I’m on the UTD executive board (Tom Lander is very proud of this. I was at a PD once and Tom Lander walked into the room and immediately announced to everyone who he was and that he was on the UTD Executive Board). We are excellent on purpose at our school. Thank you for letting me speak. I’ve been a teacher for almost 38 years. I’m gonna finish this race (I thought your race should have been over eight years ago). Teachers saved my life and gave me a reason to come to school everyday. This school board employed me and lets me and all these teachers teach our children. It’s the greatest honor. Its not just a job, it’s a ministry (Fun fact: Did you know Florida nuns get paid more than Florida teachers?).

When some people speak, they don’t know you as a board. But I’m proud of this board, and MDCPS and UTD. Boy our salary needs to be fixed (says the man who has been at the top of the step schedule for almost twenty years and has benefited the most from our previous step schedule. He will see a decent raise every year now that he’s at the top and couldn’t advance any further but will get a standard percent increase on $70,000). Just because I suffered with $180 pay raises, that should not go on forever and ever. We will see more raises in the end even if it’s just 2% or 3%, we’ll go up and over. We need to join together. Together everyone accomplishes more.”

Joe Minor: “Hello again. Good evening. I’m UTD staff here to read a statement from Karla Matz who is at a FEA executive cabinet session (no doubt plotting her coronation).

(At this point I’m sick of the UTD infomercial and hungry. I get up to get some dinner).

Heather Burdick takes the podium: “I’m surprised to find myself here today. Thank you Dr. Karp for letting that happen. I am a teacher but also youth advocate. I also lead Miami Girl’s Rock camp. I want kids to feel empowered. Often times I hear things that are supposed to be happening. Restorative justice is one. That is not the only thing. Our Superintendent has been getting national accolades but restorative justice is not happening. Our Superintendent said even in the lean years we didn’t cut the arts. My school has no art, no chorus, no media center because we have no librarian (True, you can’t cut something if it wasn’t there to begin with. I’m still appalled that my kids have no music or art in Kindergarten or 1st grade). When you spoke of the lean years. I’ve been teaching for 11 years. I make $42,000. I’m Best and Brightest and I cannot afford continue to be a teacher. Teachers don’t have time to informed. When you come to school to visit me, there will be something wrong. I can no longer work as a slave and be part of a system that is corrupt. I’m teaching transcendentalism, don’t worry, it’s in the pacing guide. You cannot be an agent of injustice. Stand up. Give people what they need. Restorative justice, art.”

Annie Thomas: “I’m a youth organizer. What’s interesting is that I’ve been a youth member and for 8 years and I’ve been coming to these meetings for 8 years. Never in the last year have I seen so much disrespect. But that is not why I’m here today. Power U does not fall under the cone of silence. We are going to have a youth speaking to you about restorative justice. I can’t stand here and stand for this disrespect. It’s intimidating to stand up here in front of a board the intimidates you. I can’t stay silent.”

Regalado: “I’m happy to talk about restorative justice. I don’t understand why you started with the cone of silence. Nobody told you you couldn’t talk about that. If we ask teachers to stop speaking, it’s because there’s a certain amount of time. We sit here and we listen. We always stay and we always listen. I see some people are taking video. You can contact WLRN and get the video. It’s a much better quality. You can just ask us for the DVD (Umm…does Regalado realize you have to pay $50 for the video? Does she realize $50 is a lot of money for teachers to pay just for the privilege of seeing Board members in Hi-Def? Are there any free transcripts of these School Board meetings? I can’t keep watching these things and typing all of this up).

Power Youth speaker: “We need restorative justice and better classroom management. We have been in….(crap this meeting has gone on so long my laptop battery just ran out. Somewhere between me running to get my charger and sitting back down this young man’s mic get’s cut off for saying a name).

Hantman: “Youth disrespected the chair and we had to cut off his mic. You said a name and I got a person who was not listening.”

(Out of all the School Board meetings I’ve watched or listened to, I have never heard a speaker’s mic get cut off. The fact that they would choose to do this to a young black male speaker was a disturbing image to see).

Youth: “We must be heard.”

Hantman: “Thank you have a good night.”

(At his point my son is demanding me to read “The Night Before Christmas” for the tenth time . so on that note, “Merry Christmas to all,and to all a good night!)

fed wrestlingDisclaimer: the image accompanying this blog post is real and was not photo-shopped by any disgruntled Dade County teacher (unlike some other images that appeared on the web during our last contract negotiations).

After Fed Ingram won the election for FEA Vice President, but then announced that he would be staying on as UTD President through May, some on social media began questioning the rather long transition period. The most obvious answer was so that he could oversee the next UTD Presidential selection and ensure current Secretary Treasurer and heir apparent, Karla Mats, gets crowned in May. This week we found out the real reason Fed is staying on in Miami was so he could fulfill his childhood professional wrestling fantasy!

On Saturday, November 14th, teachers in Dade County can finally see Fed “fight for our future” in the pro-wrestling ring (hopefully wearing nothing more than a speedo and knee-high boots). After one lovey-dovey group hug photo after the next with the Superintendent and other district officials, Dade County teachers are ready to see Fed finally battle it out for teachers (even if it is totally fake and rigged, no wonder they chose professional wrestling to partner with).

The details of this event were not only sent out in a district wide email but also posted on UTD’s website http://www.utd.org/news/watch-utd-president-fedrick-ingram-in-a-live-professional-wrestling-event-as-he-fights-for-our-future

“In order to make this event a success, Puder has partnered with United Teachers of Dade (UTD), The Florida Education Association (FEA), PTA/PTSA of Miami-Dade County, and Ronin Pro Wrestling! The highlight of the event will be a “Super 3 on 3 Match”, in which Fed Ingram, Daniel Puder, and Lt. Col. Major Mark will be taking on anyone who is up for the challenge!

⇨ Date: Saturday, November 14th, 2015

⇨ Time: 5:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M. EST

⇨ Location: Miami Jackson Senior High School (Free Parking)

⇨ Address: 1751 NW 36th Street, Miami, Florida 33142

PURCHASE YOUR TICKET ONLINE at www.MLMPEVENT.eventbee.com

USE DISCOUNT CODE: MLMP001

Also, because this is a community event, UTD and My Life My Power Ent. have integrated a fundraising platform into the event where you and/or your school or organization can help sell tickets and 80% of the proceeds from those ticket sales go back to your school in the form of My Life My Power Programming where you can receive My Life My Power’s evidence based curriculum, assemblies, faculty training, parent workshops, etc. And, thanks to a gracious match sponsor, all funds raised will be doubled! We simply provide you with a coupon code generated specifically for you so you can begin raising funds!”

Since this is a charity event (even though only 80% is going back to the schools and it is all in the form of My Life My Power Programming), I am not going to knock it down too hard. Especially since the highlight of the event is Fed and two other wrestlers (I guess he needed some back up) taking on any one up for the challenge! Surely there are some massively perturbed Dade County teachers who just had their $11,000 step bargained away by UTD that would love a chance to take on Fed in the wrestling ring! Then again, these teachers are likely to be older and might not want to risk personal bankruptcy if they got injured and had to see a specialist using the district provided health insurance. I’m tempted, but I think my husband would get jealous and I have an old child-birthing injury. Tickets are only $10 for kids and $20 for adults!

Though I have zero interest in professional wrestling (greased up men on steroids with bad hair wearing nothing but weenie-bikinis is just not my thing), this could be a highly entertaining and precedent setting event. After Fed “Fights for our Future” against professional wrestlers, maybe he could take on some actual real life anti-teacher opponents. Here is a list of contenders teachers would love to see Fed take on in the ring:

  1. Before he leaves Miami, we want to see Fed and our “Gucci” Superintendent battle it out for teacher raises next year. If Fed wins, it will be a standard 3% increase across the board. If the Superintendent wins, the district will offer a measly 1% increase and the union will have to sing the praises about the generosity of the district at the following School Board meeting.
  2. Once he eventually gets to Tallahassee, we want to see him take on the big boys. Maybe Fed will prove himself so apt in professional wrestling that he can take on “steal your 3%” Governor Rick Scott and pretty boy “Best and Brightest” Erik Fresen at the same time!
  3. Of course, there will probably be visits to Washington D.C. now that he is Vice President of the FEA. That’s where teachers want to see some real action as “Super Union Thug” Fed engages in the battle royale against “Charter School Lover” President Obama, soon to be departed “Dunkin’ your profession” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his boy, Mad Scientist “Your schools are my guinea pigs” Bill Gates.

Hopefully UTD Presidents doing charity wrestling events will become an annual tradition and next year we can attend a lady mud wrestling event with “All smiles, all the time” Karla Mats taking on bad girl, “Duct tape your kids’ mouths” Michelle Rhee!