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Best Twitter Profile Pic Ever

This week’s Teacher Voice guest is well known in public education circles here in Florida, as I’d imagine just about anyone listening to this episode knows Jeff Solochek, education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and creator of the Gradebook blog.

This podcast is a special one year anniversary edition. Teacher Voice officially started on 6/17/17 with this first post, and I always knew I wanted Jeff to be a guest after appearing on the Gradebook podcast when I started the Teacher Voice project. On this episode we discuss how Jeff became a reporter, why he chose education, how his speed reading ability allows him to get through so many articles and write summaries on each, among many other topics. Anyone who knows and/or reads Jeff will really enjoy this episode.

It’s been an amazing first year of the Teacher Voice project. I’ve met so many great people doing the podcast, and all have a vested interest in our students, their education, and their future. Honestly, I still cannot believe the overwhelmingly positive response from others, both locally and across the state, and I look forward to what the next year brings. Thank you so much for listening to the podcasts, reading the blog posts, and sharing them with others.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone, and Happy Fathers’ Day to all the dads out there!

P.S. – If you haven’t heard the latest edition of the Gradebook podcast Jeff references in our chat, you can listen to it here.

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Nearly six months to the day after calling for Susan Valdes’ resignation due to her “foolishness” comment, the District 1 member of the HCPS school board has officially resigned to run for the Florida Legislature in House District 62.

Better late than never.

The following is an open letter to the constituents of House District 62 as well as a political playbook for her primary campaign opponents.

As noted previously in podcasts and other posts, Susan Valdes’ commitment to the Hispanic community specifically (and all minorities generally) is both noteworthy and laudable. No one can deny she has advocated for these students during her time on the board.

But numerous problems remain and all voters should beware her motivations, especially in light of her alleged “three P’s” comment and other troubling revelations from the last two years since she won re-election in 2016.

Three Ps

If I were a campaign manager for Valdes’ opponents, here are several points I would address every time when speaking to the constituents of House District 62 so that every voter knows exactly who Susan Valdes is and what she stands for:

  1. Campaign Contributions from For-Profit Charter Management Companies

Public Education is a tried and true campaign platform for any and all Democrat candidates and, typically, this party is the only one that has cried foul against the taxpayer fraud being committed by these for-profit charter management companies (learn more here). In essence, these companies establish “non-profit” boards to comply with the law, and these boards turn around and hire the company for management, back office services, pay them rental/lease agreements above and beyond market value, etc. Nearly half of the money doesn’t even get to the kids in the classrooms; instead, it goes to pad the profit lines of companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates.

All three of these companies gave handsomely to Susan Valdes during the 2016 election cycle and should call into question her advocacy for public education. While most Democrats are trying to defend it, she is silently cheering on its demise by taking money from privatizing profiteers.

2. Ethics Investigations

It’s no secret that Member Valdes has abused her power while on the school board, which led to the state of Florida opening up separate ethics investigations against her. Her family received free day care even though she was never technically an employee; it would appear she helped her friend and campaign manager get a job in the county for which she had no qualifications; she interfered with the open bidding process during the “cone of silence” to ensure that a local company–whose CEO donated heavily to Valdes’ re-election bid–had a second chance to change their pricing, resulting in a contract that still cost taxpayers $50,000 more than it could have had the district gone with the original bid winner, Arey Jones.

Now that she has resigned, however, those ethics investigations cease. But that doesn’t change the fact that there was enough evidence to merit the investigations by the state in the first place, and any primary opponent would be wise to constantly mention these investigations and not let her off the hook for her past transgressions.

3. Taxpayers Footing the Bill for Valdes’ Excessive Travel

As the linked editorial above notes, this has been a chronic problem since Susan Valdes was elected in 2004. In her first term she spent over $50,000 and, despite her pledge to be more mindful of it in the future, she never quit. She infamously made news again in 2016 when she spent over $14,000 from May of 2015 to May of 2016, which was more than the remaining six board members combined. This also coincided with the first time I spoke at an HCPS school board meeting, mainly because I was so distraught over her reckless use of taxpayer dollars at a time when the district was trying to shore up its reserves by cutting spending.

4. Susan Valdes – Career Politician

For the last fourteen years, Susan Valdes has served as a school board member for Hillsborough County Public Schools. This year, the Florida Legislature tried to pass legislation to enforce term limits on school board members, an effort that ultimately never passed yet was bundled into Amendment 8 by the Constitution Revision Commission (please vote NO on 8!). This amendment, however, also includes a provision that will allow for-profit charters to circumvent local school boards altogether, so despite its attempt to limit school board members to two consecutive terms–something many people across the Sunshine State want–it comes at too steep a cost to public education.

Now she wants to jump ship and try to “serve the people” (i.e. herself and her campaign contributors) of House District 62. The voters of this district should fully repudiate her and end her career in politics now before she wreaks more havoc on Hillsborough County. If you are a resident of District 62, please vote for one of her primary opponents; if you know someone who lives in 62, please share this post / information with that person.

Please vote in this critical midterm primary election.

Just vote for anyone other than Susan Valdes.

FEFP
For two decades the Florida Legislature has been squeezing blood from a stone

Three weeks ago the Florida Legislature’s Office of the House Majority put out this video in an effort to combat the bad press it had been getting over the 47 cent increase to the BSA, or Base Student Allocation.

After my own rebuttal to this reprehensible attempt to characterize all education professionals as everyone’s favorite disheveled ingrate, Frank, Politifact Florida weighed in on the matter to state that the House Majority’s video about the #47centmyth (boy, I love it when Corcoran and Co. coin hashtags) is “mostly false.”

So what did the Office of the House Majority do? Did it see the error of its ways and decide to use an archaic method to have the Florida Legislature return for a special session via roll call so that it could properly fund public education?

No, it made another video.

Let me save the reader a valuable 4 minutes and 27 seconds of life and sum it up: according to the Florida Legislature, the only number that matters is FEFP, which stands for Florida Education Finance Program. This is the number that we should all reference when talking about education spending so that we have a single measurement by which we can accurately discuss how much the Sunshine State spends “per-pupil.”

For the upcoming school year of 2018-19 that “per-pupil” number is $7,408.

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Everyone’s favorite lovable ingrate, Frank, is overjoyed with the Florida Legislature’s largesse.

As much as the GOP-led Florida Legislature wants to argue about what constitutes a fact, here are three numbers/facts that make it incredibly tough to argue against:

20 years ago, Florida spent $6,443 per-pupil; adjusted for inflation, this number would have to be $9,913 in constant dollars to keep up with rising costs.

10 years ago, Florida spent $7,126 per-pupil; again, adjusted for inflation, this number would have to be $8,311.

Yet here we are, 20 years later, and we still haven’t increased per-pupil funding by even $1,000 from two decades ago. And all of this transpired under the watchful eye of a GOP-led Florida Legislature and Governor’s mansion that has refused to keep up with rising costs, let alone make a meaningful investment in our children and their future.

Numbers don’t lie, people. Inflation happens. And when the Florida Legislature touts the FEFP per-pupil number as the only one that matters, it opens itself up to even more criticism precisely because costs have risen the last two decades the GOP has been in power, yet the purchasing power of that money has simultaneously declined.

Despite Governor Scott’s, House Speaker Corcoran’s, and Senate President Negron’s claims that this year’s per-pupil spending is “historic”, “unprecedented”, and “record-level”, $7,408 lags the national average by over $4,000 and, as previously demonstrated above, its own inflation-adjusted spending by over $2,500.

Oh, and here’s one more number/fun fact for our GOP legislators: in 1998 Florida was 27th in per-pupil spending, putting our state at roughly the national average back then (27th in the U.S.); now, in 2018, just about every measure shows that we rank in the bottom 10 percent (45th or lower) of the entire United States.

And until we vote these people out, they will continue to squeeze blood from a stone…

P.S. – Is this more “Corcoran fuzzy math”? Not sure where this inflated number comes from, but it shows up briefly on the side of the bus in the new video (almost like a subliminal message) and $7,408 is never mentioned.

Supposed K-12 Spending
Yipee! Even if this number were correct–it’s not–we’d lag the national average by ONLY $3,000!

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Sarah Fortney, Candidate for Polk County School Board District 3

Sarah Fortney is a science teacher with 33 years of classroom teaching experience, and she wants to bring that experience to the Polk County School Board. Any classroom teacher who listens to this edition of Teacher Voice will be able to relate to many of the struggles she describes. She hopes to change things for the better for every stakeholder in the education process, especially her future constituents in Polk County.

If you’d like to learn more about Sarah Fortney or her campaign, you can visit her site by clicking here. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter (click either). And if you like what Sarah has to say, please share with friends and family who live in Polk County.

Thanks again for listening, everyone!

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Lane Weaver, former Hillsborough County Public Schools student and recent Summa Cum Laude graduate from the Florida State University’s College of Education

This edition of the Teacher Voice podcast welcomes one of my former students, Lane Weaver, who is about to embark on his new career as a high school Social Studies teacher in Orange county this coming August. He emailed me a few weeks back just to share the exciting news and update me on his life, so I invited him to join me for a conversation about his time as a student in HCPS, at Florida State, and why he decided to become a teacher and make a positive difference in the lives of his future students.

Are you a new or veteran teacher who would like to share your voice on the podcast? Please send an email to 1teachervoice@gmail.com and perhaps we can get together this summer.

Thanks for listening, everyone. Enjoy the Memorial Day holiday weekend!

April Griffin
April Griffin, Countywide District 6 School Board Member for Hillsborough County

Thank you, Mrs. Griffin.

This genuine expression of gratitude is long overdue, and I hope it sheds light on why I began the Teacher Voice project.

As I told Ernest Hooper a few weeks ago, the first time I ever spoke up about anything affecting our school district was in late February of 2016. I was concerned about the changes being implemented to the new teacher mentor program, a role in which I was then serving. The questions I sent to Marlene Sokol were reprinted verbatim on the Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog, and my phone started blowing up when it was published online.

The following Monday, February 29th, I sat in a room with 24 other new teacher mentors, Mrs. Griffin, and one of the assistant superintendents, Mrs. McManus, both of whom came to hear out our concerns. Many of my peers were deeply bothered by the sudden change to a successful program, and rightly so. For the entire duration of the meeting, I sat mute, listening, taking it all in.

Toward the end of said meeting, Mrs. Griffin said a famous quote I had even used in my original email: in dark times we must speak truth to power.

I couldn’t agree with her more then, and I still believe this is the case now more than ever.

Several months went by before I spoke publicly at my first school board meeting. Emboldened by Mrs. Griffin’s endorsement of my voice, my wife and I addressed the board on November 1st, 2016. I even used the line and publicly thanked Mrs. Griffin that day.

 

 

This was then followed by a 75 minute conversation in January of 2017 with our Superintendent, Jeff Eakins, who encouraged me to use my “voice” by writing op-eds, reaching out to legislators, and other public education advocacy efforts.

I mulled this over for the next several months before finally taking the plunge, and “Teacher Voice” was born on 6/17/17 when I wrote my first post (be sure to come back for a special edition one year anniversary podcast with someone who every public education advocate knows!).

And then today this unfortunate piece appeared in La Gaceta.

To be honest, the publisher, Patrick Manteiga, should be ashamed for multiple reasons, least of which as a “journalist” he should try to steer clear of sensationalism in all of its forms. Although this bit of #FakeNews reads like a gossip column in the National Enquirer or, better yet, World Weekly News, he doesn’t even properly contextualize the comments being made when he decided to include me in this conversation.

And so to set the record straight, let’s recap:

On November 12th, 2017, I sent a joint message to both Melissa Snively and Lynn Gray, two of our other school board members who oversee HCPS. This was two days before the first planned rally of our local union, Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, and, for the sake of full disclosure, I had asked them to make a motion to suspend the rules on employee comment so that all teachers and ESPs could be heard at the 11/14/17 school board meeting. This was after I had already written an open letter to the entire school board asking them to do the very same thing, because a few months earlier Susan Valdes had established a similar precedent by allowing a large number of speakers from the Hispanic community to bring their concerns to the board.

Time-Date Stamp

 

I had sent this message to them through this medium for two reasons: 1) I didn’t know if they would see it in time had I sent it via my regular school email; 2) I wanted to suggest that they make the motion and second it because they have often been the two members who publicly and frequently advocate for the employees of HCPS while on the dais.

Today, however, Mr. Manteiga made it sound as if this conversation had taken place on March 10th, which is patently incorrect and demonstrates a lack of fact-checking on the part of not only a “journalist”, but a responsible publisher.

The reason I even mentioned Mrs. Snively being chair and Mrs. Gray being vice chair was because I was asking their permission to make this suggestion in my public comments. Mrs. Snively never even responded to my inquiry–which calls into question the speculative claim that any Sunshine Laws had been violated–and Mrs. Gray only answered me nearly four months after the fact on March 10th of 2018. Therefore, if one were to watch my public comment on 11/14, he or she would see that I do not make said suggestion before that evening’s board reorganization.

Moreover, this was only one month after the very public spat between Members Griffin and Shamburger at a board training concerning communication, and the general public was quickly losing faith in the leadership of our school district.

Griffin quote

Questions remain, however. Did I break protocol by reaching out to Members Snively and Gray via the Facebook Messenger medium this one time? Possibly. But I did out of haste in trying to ascertain their opinion on the matter, as well as deference and respect to their position as elected officials.

Larger questions loom, though. As a Theory of Knowledge teacher who has an entire unit on ethics as an Area of Knowledge, I cannot help but wonder how these pictures of Member Snively’s Facebook account were acquired.

Was her account hacked and the claim that she left it open merely a ruse?

Even if it were left open, does any person, even an elected official, not have some expectation of privacy on a device that may be left logged in? For instance, if I were to leave my laptop open and logged into my Facebook page in a public forum such as a library, does that mean any person in said public forum has the right to walk up to my computer and use it as he or she sees fit?

What right did the person who garnered these pictures have to snoop through her account? It’s not as if all of these messages were displayed simultaneously on one page, so clearly someone had to select several message feeds in order to gain access to these conversations did they not?

As an elected official working to meet the needs of constituents in the 21st century, is it not reasonable to expect that many people reach out to Member Snively via Facebook Messenger to communicate their concerns? If so, is it not possible that the private information and issues of citizens from Hillsborough County have been compromised in what appears to be an unethical (illegal?) search of this device?

Again, what does Patrick Manteiga gain by publishing what amounts to a gossip column on his website or in his paper? Does he have any relationship with other school board members who might seek a political advantage by airing these messages? (I’ll save the reader the time by unequivocally stating that, yes, he does)

There are more questions I could generate, but they will only belabor the point. In closing, I want to again express my heartfelt thanks to Mrs. April Griffin for giving me the courage and moral fortitude to speak truth to power. I started the Teacher Voice project to do just that, whether it be our local school board or the Florida Legislature, and I will unapologetically continue to speak up and out about critical issues that affect public education, our students and their future.

Sincerely,

Ryan Haczynski

P.S. – To all of my fellow colleagues who positively and directly affect the lives of the next generation of Floridians and U.S. citizens here in Hillsborough county and across the Sunshine State, may you enjoy a restful and rejuvenating break with your family and friends. Happy Summer!

 

 

The Truth Matters
Why, yes! Yes it does, Florida GOP!

Apparently the Florida GOP is tired of getting beaten up in the media by public education advocates who cried foul after the education budget increased the base student allocation by 47 cents. Pardon the bold, italicized wording at the end of the last sentence, it’s only to ensure that specific wording is employed to clarify any misconceptions. So, to combat this endless churn in the news cycle, the Florida GOP–you know, the ones who are always touting fiscal conservatism while budgets continue to balloon for everything except public education–have decided to waste more taxpayer dollars to produce this video that up to this point has been watched a whopping 472 times.

If you haven’t seen this gem, go ahead and waste five minutes of your life so you can see for yourself just how much the Florida GOP thinks of teachers.

On the heels of National Teacher Appreciation Week, the Florida GOP likens all of us a disheveled lout named Frank. Make no mistake about it, there is no way their opening analogy can be construed any other way. Apparently anyone who has the nerve to call out the Florida Legislature is, according to the GOP, perpetuating a “myth.”

For those who are unaware of the etymological roots of that word, it simply means “story” (and nothing more) in ancient Greek. We all tell stories, and this is the Florida GOP’s attempt to craft a narrative of convenience that clearly demonstrates their disdainful views about teachers, teachers’ unions, and our profession in general.

At the end of the video, when the narrator (myth-maker?) says that “the truth matters”, he talks about facts being stubborn things. So here are a few of which the general public should be aware:

1. 2007-2008 per-pupil spending was $7,126; next year’s will be $7,408. 11 years later, not even $300 higher. Can’t ignore inflation and the declining purchasing power of the almighty dollar…adjusted for inflation we should be at $8,311 just to have kept up.

2. But wait! It gets even better! As this chart indicates, Florida spent $6,443 per-pupil in 1998-99, which was 20 years ago for our Florida GOP who struggle with math and logic (trust me, I’m a 99th percentile Best and Brightest teacher!). This was just shy of the national average for per-pupil spending at the time (27th in the U.S.), and we now rank in the bottom 10% of all states in the U.S. (45th). What happened during that 20 year period?

Oh yeah, the Florida GOP took over our state government.

3. Despite all the bombastic claims of “historic”, “unprecedented”, “record-level” public education spending, we lag the national average by roughly $4,000, which is clearly seen in this chart (one can also see we still haven’t even fully recovered from the Great Recession, one of the many reasons we’ve had teacher walkouts/strikes erupting in GOP-led states). Also, as another stubborn/fun fact, if we kept up with inflation from our 1998-99 spending, we would need to spend $9,913.

National Average

The fact of the matter is that the Florida GOP’s little video isn’t fooling anyone, least of all public education advocates. But it’s clearly a message intended to be seen by “working Floridians”, you know, that 45% of Florida’s population that is considered “working poor” and has clearly prospered so much under the Rick Scott administration, especially in rural counties where they have been left even further behind than before he began his tenure.

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, Florida GOP, but the only ones who are in the myth-making business is your party.

And, no, I’m not a Democrat or whatever else you’d like to call me in case you want to jump straight to ad hominem attacks.

P.S. – This is my favorite scene in the entire video. What the Florida GOP unwittingly included was a meeting of Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates, three of the largest for-profit charter management companies who all donate heavily to the Florida GOP to ensure they will continue to siphon off tens of millions of dollars from the kids and classrooms to pad their profit lines. Sorry/not sorry about that stubborn little fact too.

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This message sponsored by the Florida GOP and their For-Profit Charter Management Overlords

Joanne McCall
Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall

This week’s guest on the latest Teacher Voice podcast is FEA President Joanne McCall. I reached out to Joanne on Twitter to invite her on the podcast, especially considering so many teachers across Florida have been wondering what our next steps should be in light of the wave of teacher activism that has been sweeping through many other right to work states. Though she did not mention a possible #RallyInTally, she shares some of the other FEA ideas such as the “Me Plus Three” campaign and what other locals can do to increase membership and activism as we move toward this year’s election season.

Thanks for listening, everyone. Please be sure to share with other concerned education professionals and public education advocates!

P.S. – I tried my best to eliminate the background noise of the landline I called, but it may still be noticeable at times.

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One view of the Arizona #REDforED movement marching on the capitol

All across the Sunshine State, education professionals and their supporters just closed out National Teacher Appreciation Week. During this time, public education was celebrated by students and parents alike. Many people wore #REDforED to stand in solidarity with teachers in other states that have accomplished change by banding together, as well as to highlight the similar challenges we face here in Florida.

Many people also took to social media to share their support and to say thanks to those who work with our children on a daily basis. A few even used this platform and time to illustrate important points to our elected officials about the starvation budgets that have been served up during the tenure of Governor Rick Scott. These are a few of my contributions, for instance, that I used to help spread awareness and build momentum as we move forward to this year’s election cycle:

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Numbers Don’t Lie, Governor Scott

 

Clearly one of the most effective forms of demonstration that has helped along the situations faced by states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona was marching on the capitol. What if we could do this here in Florida? Is it time for a little rally in Tally? It certainly has a nice ring to it and could easily be used as a hashtag to build further momentum during the summer and beyond. There are even two dates that would be perfect for taking this simple, effective action:

Monday, September 17th, 2018, which is U.S. Constitution Day, an idea that was originally proposed by retired educator and all-star public education advocate, Donna Yates Mace. Teachers from central to north Florida could easily drive up Sunday during the day, stay over night, march on / hold a rally in the capitol the next day, and then return home that evening. Not only would this be a perfect time to celebrate democracy and demonstrate civic engagement to our students and communities (something the Legislature clearly thinks we don’t teach based on attempted legislation and CRC amendments), but the legislators themselves will be returning to Tallahassee to begin committee work for the coming year. Furthermore, considering the primaries will be over by this point, it will send a strong message about voting for pro-public education candidates and hopefully all candidates will be addressing the need for increased funding for our students and schools.

And what better way to celebrate the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself than by marching / rallying again on Monday, January 21st, 2019, only a couple of weeks after the new legislative session starts. Granted there probably won’t be any activity that day, but legislators will be there or returning for work on Tuesday. But if we can get tens of thousands of teachers to show up and get high-profile media coverage of the event, it would definitely put the Florida Legislature on notice.

We educators will no longer be silent about the damage being done by the gross lack of funding for our public education system. As MLK himself reminds us all: the time is always right to do what is right. The time is now. The fight is here. We can take action that doesn’t require us to strike yet still be “highly effective.” Just close your eyes and imagine it…a sea of red set out to #RallyInTally.

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Time to #RallyInTally

Corky
House Speaker Richard Corcoran brings the hammer down on the status quo, or so he claims…

Long before Richard Corcoran became Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, he claimed that what was “destroying this country and this state” was “the status quo and the protectors of it.” He again recently harped on his favorite phrase–this time in relation to “institutionalized school boards”–when he penned a column that appeared in the Tampa Bay Times just over one week ago.

What follows herein, then, is a direct rebuttal to many of the points addressed within the Speaker’s column. As an independent voter who has never had a party affiliation, I am one of many citizens who feels disenfranchised by a two-party system that has been largely hijacked by extremists on both sides of the aisle. The entire Sunshine State needs collaboration and compromise between its lawmakers; our citizens have received very little of either in the two decades I have lived in Florida, however, and this is especially true during the last two contentious legislative sessions overseen by Speaker Corcoran.

The Speaker’s column begins with a bombastic claim that Floridians will have the opportunity “to vote on the best slate of constitutional amendments ever.” Much of what follows from there is largely opinion with few facts to corroborate his assertions, so let’s examine his claims individually to see how they stack up against reality during Governor Scott’s tenure in office as well as Representative Corcoran’s time as Speaker of the House.

Speaker Corcoran initiates his column by proudly stating he and Governor Scott have cut taxes 80 times totaling over $10 billion dollars since 2010. As someone who is personally fiscally conservative, this would be welcome news if my perspective weren’t already tempered by the realization that all Floridians have an obligation to the future, which requires investment in public institutions and services, something our state cannot afford to do by constantly curtailing revenue streams for no other reason beyond pandering to an ultra-conservative political base.

As opinion editor of the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Tom Tryon, noted last year during the 2017 legislative session, Florida ranks 49th in per-capita revenue generation despite the fact that we are the third most populous state in the U.S. This lack of revenue ultimately leads to frequent actions such as raiding trust funds to cover rising costs while politically saving face with the GOP’s core constituency. Tampa Bay Times columnist, John Romano, noted similar concerns in a recent piece that called these “anti-tax laws…ticking political time bombs that could blow up our future.”

All it will really take is the next economic recession–something that Speaker Corcoran surely knows is coming considering how much he touts his love of free markets as a panacea for every economic ill–and the boom and bust cycle will ensure that our consumption based revenue will collapse in on itself much like it did during the housing crisis a decade ago.

Instead, however, the Speaker is pushing for yet another homestead exemption that will further reduce revenue by $637 million dollars at a time when we desperately need funding for Medicare and Medicaid expansion, infrastructure, and public education. And what do Floridians stand to receive if this amendment passes? $250. Annually.

Taken another way: this is 68 cents per day, which will not buy anything of value in today’s day and age. To the Speaker’s credit, though, it should be noted that 68 cents per day is much better than the 47 cent per-pupil increase school districts will receive in 2018-19 for the entire school year, a move that has left nearly all 67 counties financially hamstrung.

And while discussing per-pupil funding, let’s acknowledge how abysmal it has been for the last decade despite constant claims by Governor Scott, Speaker Corcoran, and Senate President Joe Negron that this year’s “record-level” $7,408 per-pupil amount is “unprecendented” and “historic”; adjusted for inflation, the $7,126 from 2007-2008 would need to be $8,415 to have the equivalent purchasing power, a fact anyone can check with the U.S. Department of Labor’s CPI Inflation Calculator.  $8,415 is clearly far more than the $7,221 our schools received this past school year, meaning we are at least $1,200 behind and lag the national average by approximately $4,000.

Corky and Joe
Remember, Joe: “Historic”, “Unprecedented”, and “Record-Level”. If we just keep repeating these words perhaps everybody will believe us about public education spending here in Florida.

This point is perhaps best summed up in another John Romano column when he states the following: “The Legislature likes to brag about education funding being at record-high levels, but it’s a disingenuous argument. It does not take into account inflation. It does not take into account new state mandates that force schools to spend more money. It does not take into account that Florida’s K-12 spending is woefully inadequate when compared to the rest of the nation. In short, that argument is a load of bull.”

At a bare minimum, the students, parents, and education professionals deserve a special session so that the Florida Legislature can actually provide the $400 million it pledged for school safety, rather than shuffle all the money around in the education budget and still claim to have increased funding. Far more importantly, it also begs the question of why education spending did not increase by $1.5 billion when the entire budget climbed by over $6 billion. Public education is already one quarter of the state’s budget after all; shouldn’t it deserve an equitable increase as a total proportion of the new budget?

It’s not just education that needs the funding, either. Two other areas that sorely need attention are healthcare and infrastructure. Despite being a donor state that sends more money to the federal government than it receives, Governor Scott famously rejected federal dollars for both Medicaid expansion that would have meant coverage for over one million Floridians in poverty, as well as a high speed rail that would have connected Tampa to Orlando and eventually Miami. In a recent column written by Sue Carlton of the Tampa Bay Times after she slogged through hours of traffic on I-4, she reminds us all that “in the name of politics, Scott turned his back on what would have been an important step toward the kind of modern transportation this state will need. Make that: already needs.”

Speaker Corcoran then points out the 1.5 million jobs that were created during his and Governor Scott’s tenure, yet without noting that “much of the job growth during Scott’s tenure has come in low-paying corners of the economy” or that “45 percent of households across the state…still find it practically impossible to obtain even the most everyday necessities – lacking what it takes to pay bills, afford health care, housing and transportation, regardless of regular employment.” When one adds these two facts together, it is no wonder why Florida has an affordable housing crisis.

At this point it is worth noting the about face of Speaker Corcoran, who, lest we all forget, was chief antagonist of Governor Scott for much of the 2017 legislative session, fuming over “corporate welfare” and wanting to eviscerate the funding of both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, two of the governor’s beloved pet projects. This animosity evaporated almost immediately at the end of the session after a closed-door horse-dealing session that every public education advocate knows all too well.

Corcoran and Scott
Psst! I’ll sign HB7069 if you give me an $85 million dollar jobs slush fund.

After detailing how he–along with Governor Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga–appointed the 37 members of the Florida Constitutional Revision Commision, a group that has set out to attempt to install its politically conservative agenda into our state’s most precious civil document rather than listening to what the Sunshine State’s citizenry wants, Speaker Corcoran segues into hollow words about ending corruption in Tallahassee because of his “ethics reform package.”

For someone who constantly preens himself over his record on challenging special interests and ending “corporate welfare”–a point upon which he and I philosophically agree, interestingly enough–Speaker Corcoran’s words run diametrically opposed to his actions when it serves his own interests and agenda.

Case in point: HB7069 and HB7055, both of which go out of their way to steer our public taxpayer dollars to the for-profit charter management industry. Rep. Manny Diaz, for instance, who sits on both the Education Committee and K-12 Appropriations subcommittee, is paid a six figure salary for a job he supposedly holds at Doral College, which, in turn, is a subsidiary of Academica, the largest of the for-profit charter management companies. Along with Charter Schools USA and Charter School Associates, Academica heavily donates to the GOP coffers and must not be regulars on what Speaker Corcoran dubs the “capital [sic] cocktail circuit”. As Fabiola Santiago notes in her excellent Miami Herald piece, Florida’s ethics laws “are a joke” and further states “it’s a clear conflict of interest for members of the Florida Legislature who have a stake in charter schools to vote to fund and expand them.”

Speaker Corcoran also goes on to boast of his and Governor Scott’s education priorities, noting–quite incorrectly, one might add–that “Florida is one of the only states in the nation to significantly improve math and reading scores.” He is referring to the NAEP, which is small sampling of random students and schools that deals with proficiency not growth. Truth be told, all the NAEP report demonstrates is that some random students did better than other random students from several years ago.

It is noteworthy, however, that Polk School Board member, Billy Townsend, keeps pointing toward an exhaustive report done by Stanford University that clearly tracks all students across multiple grades to build a robust picture of student growth (or lack thereof) on standardized tests, which, as anyone in public education knows, is the only metric deemed worthy of consideration by the Florida Legislature. This report, oddly enough, has been routinely ignored by every single person in Tallahassee. Why? This map speaks for the entire study:

Purple Is Bad
All one needs to know is that purple is bad and represents a lack of test score growth.

With regard to the school board term limit proposal in Amendment 8, Speaker Corcoran neglects to mention that this is one of the “bundled” amendments that will also establish a state governed charter school authorization board that can circumvent the power of our own locally elected officials in addition to establishing a parallel “public” school system that will not answer to local school boards, which is only another ploy to redirect precious, scant taxpayer dollars to entities that have little oversight or accountability.

Finally, as an insult to all Social Studies teachers across the entire Sunshine State, Speaker Corcoran tells us that the Florida Legislature and the CRC have set out to enshrine civics education in our Constitution in an effort to ensure “a student should not be able to graduate without understanding what makes America great. Our founding documents and the values of our free society should not just be taught, but understood by every student who comes out of a Florida school.” This is already happening here in Hillsborough where Civics in a mandatory course that all students take in 7th grade, and undoubtedly everywhere else throughout the state. How else could Parkland students so quickly organize the “March For Our Lives” events and eloquently share their views if we had no robust civics education in Florida schools?

At the end of his tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Richard Corcoran has clearly failed at what he set out to do when he took the gavel and stated he would disrupt the status quo. What he failed to realize was the paradoxical nature of his quest that did not acknowledge a single fact of paramount importance:

That Speaker Corcoran–and by extension the entire ideologically-driven, GOP-dominated Florida Legislature of the last two decades–is the status quo.

 

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This year during National Teacher Appreciation Week, Let’s Do More by Sending a Message

In the previous post on Teacher Voice, I rhetorically asked all of Florida’s Teachers’ Unions, especially the Florida Education Association, “why can’t we do more?”

The simple truth is we can and must do more, and we should do so from now until the coming elections in November. There are fewer than 200 days left until the election, and we should use every spare moment to continue to generate momentum and share our message about the very real plight of public education here in Florida.

The first action we can take is continue to pressure Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature to return for a special session and make a proper investment in our students and their future. At a bare minimum, our elected officials should commit to providing the $400 million that they pledged for school safety and security measures, which ate up all but 47 cents of the roughly $100 increase in per-pupil spending (and that still lags total inflation adjusted spending from a decade ago by nearly $1500).

So how can advocates help make that happen? The FEA just launched a petition that is a snap to sign and share, and it takes less than 30 seconds to do both. Here’s the link to the petition.

In the previous post I also envisioned a “walk-in” happening here in Hillsborough at a minimum, and in all 67 school districts across the Sunshine State if the idea had reached critical mass. For reasons that are too long to enumerate, the idea didn’t get traction, but I think we can do something much simpler and still be highly successful:

Let’s get everyone to wear RED from May 7th through the 11th to coincide with National Teacher Appreciation Week. And by everyone, I mean every single education professional, administrator, guidance counselor, student, parent, community activist…essentially anyone who cares about our students and their future.

Why will this be so powerful? 1) It’s easy; 2) it will send a strong message if we have thousands upon thousands of people doing this; 3) it will be a conversation starter and a chance for every single person working in education to help share his or her story and the current plight of public education here in Florida. As FEA president Joanne McCall said recently, the only way we can change this is at the ballot box, and what better way to continue to gain momentum than sharing our platform by all stakeholders banding together and using social media to spread awareness with the already ubiquitous hashtag #REDforED.

As noted previously, the time for action is now. We must use this week to stand together in solidarity with teachers who have protested or are protesting currently. As this PBS article states, the majority of people in the United States support raises for teachers (although I think the more important point is raising per-pupil spending overall). Even though we can’t go on strike in Florida, if we get the backing of parents and other concerned community members and all take action together it will send a strong message that we intend to change things for the better.

Please share this post and idea with others starting today. National Teacher Appreciation Week is still nearly two weeks away, which gives us plenty of time to organize this simple action. And if we’re lucky, we can gain enough traction to not only make it #REDforED week here in Florida, but across the entire U.S. as well.

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Robert Pechacek, Coleman Middle School Teacher and HCPS School Board Candidate for the District 6 Countywide seat

This week’s guest on the Teacher Voice podcast is Robert Pechacek, a military veteran, business owner, and now public school teacher who is running for the District 6 Countywide school board seat for Hillsborough County Public Schools. Robert and I discuss his reasons for becoming a teacher and why he is running in this year’s race. Please listen and share with other interested voters.

If you like what you heard and would like to learn more about Robert, you can visit his website www.votepechacek.org or like/follow his page on Facebook.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

RP District 6

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Nadia Zananiri, Social Studies teacher working in Miami-Dade, Public Ed advocate /activist, author of Kafkateach, and creator of the Florida Educators United Facebook group page

The guest on the latest Teacher Voice podcast needs no introduction to nearly 3,000 public education advocates who have joined the Florida Educators United Facebook group (click the link to see the page/join the group). She has been blogging for half of her career, so be sure to bookmark Kafkateach on your web browser to read her regular posts, many of which are downright hilarious due to the satirical wit with which she writes.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

Please be sure to check out / join the Florida Educators United group on Facebook, as well as share this podcast with other public education advocates who want to get involved to help foster change by voting in the upcoming election cycle.

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In the wake of recent rebellions by teachers and other public education advocates that have been taking place in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona, the teachers’ unions in Florida have been largely silent on getting involved, mostly reminding education professionals that we cannot strike here due to the deal we made with the Florida Legislature in 1968 that exchanged our right to collectively bargain for our right to strike.

50 years later, many are starting to wonder if that deal has been broken by the current Florida Legislature, a governing body that seems to care little about what nearly 200,000 education professionals think and in the last two years especially has tried to circumvent the Florida Constitution with bad faith legislation like HB7069 and HB7055.

And yet with all of this unprecedented teacher organization and activism, our main union for the entire state,  the Florida Education Association, and its current president, Joanne McCall, have done two things: 1) issue a statement reminding everyone that we cannot strike and that there are draconian consequences awaiting us all if we do; 2) create ads and a commercial about the damage done during Rick Scott’s tenure that encourage us to vote for public education advocates in August and November. There’s nothing wrong with these actions per se, but we could do so much more by banding together NOW and having demonstrations, rallies, and marches between today and November.

It’s evident on Facebook alone that teachers throughout the Sunshine State want to take action, even if only as a demonstration of solidarity with educators in the aforementioned states. Several “Florida Educators United” group pages have already appeared on Facebook, and comments made there and on other education blogs are riddled with questions about why teachers’ unions are not leading the charge while the plight of public education and its woeful funding in southern states is in the public spotlight.

We cannot squander this opportunity, which is why President McCall and the FEA should start mobilizing the local unions to engage our communities without going on strike. As I wrote in my comments to the Hillsborough County School Board last week, the time is now. The reason why we must take action now rather than later is two-fold:

1) non-members need to see how the state and local teachers’ unions are being pro-active and taking the fight to Tallahassee while simultaneously standing in solidarity with those who are still protesting in Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. This may encourage them to join their local unions and further strengthen our numbers, which is especially critical in light of the union decertification language that was packaged into HB7055.

2) by starting our efforts to organize and activate our members, we can consistently build momentum and share our message all summer long and into the upcoming election cycle. Unions could use the summer months especially to network with local candidates that they endorse, help register young voters who have Parkland on their mind and want to radically change the status quo in Tallahassee, and just help phone bank / knock on doors to help get out the vote during primaries in August and the general in November.

While many local unions may come up with other ideas, here are two excellent ones that I would personally love to see the FEA champion and help coordinate. The first was proposed during our executive board meeting last week. Arizona has decided to stage a statewide “walk-in” rather than a “walkout”; teachers, parents, and other community supporters will all line up to walk in to school together. Imagine if all 67 districts could coordinate this effort to demonstrate similarly at every school throughout Florida on the exact same day.

One of our board members proposed a day: May 8th, National Teacher Appreciation Day.

This gives us one month from today to start spreading the word on social media and getting the locals on board with the aid of the FEA and its leadership team. It might also be a good idea to wear red that day in honor of the #RedForEd movement that is currently sweeping the nation, especially in GOP-dominated states that continue to lag public education spending levels that existed prior to the Great Recession.

Donna Yates Mace, a retired teacher, outspoken public education advocate, and manager of Teacher to Teacher also had another suggestion for a demonstration day: September 17, U.S. Constitution Day, which is perfect timing due to the beginning of committee work in Tallahassee for the 2019 legislative session as well as closing in on the general elections that will happen in November. That one is far enough away I am confident we could easily amass a giant rally on the steps of the capitol in Tallahassee, demanding better funding to support our students and their future.

Union members and non-members alike are perplexed and frustrated by the limited action the FEA has taken thus far, and locals feel beholden to fall lockstep into whatever FEA leadership suggests. Many of us are asking the question: why can’t we do more?

I believe that not only we can do more, we must.

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Sign from my classroom that I referenced in my comments at the school board meeting

When I wrote these comments yesterday before speaking at the Hillsborough County Public Schools board meeting, I was thinking about MLK’s quote “it is always the right time to do the right thing.” Though I didn’t include it in my words, it is fitting to reflect on this with today being the 50th anniversary of his untimely death.

Good afternoon, board members, Superintendent Eakins, and staff. About half way through my first fifteen years of teaching, I took the clock off my classroom wall. Most kids cannot read analog clocks, so it eliminated questions such as “what time is it?”; “how much longer until the bell rings?”; and “when do we get out of here?” Instead, I replaced the clock with a sign on the wall that simply said “the time is NOW” with the word NOW capitalized and underlined.

As cliché as it may be, there’s no time like the present. In fact, the only time we can take charge and enact change is always in the here and now. There is no point in grumbling about the past or hand-wringing in worry about the future—both are futile and only consume precious time and energy.

So while the moment is upon us, let’s talk about what we must all pull together to do. First, I would ask that district leadership decide to return to the table so we can bring a long overdue conclusion to this school year’s bargaining session before we have to go through impasse. Well over 20,000 education professionals have worked into the fourth quarter of the 2017-18 school year without receiving their earned year of experience and contractually obligated step movement on the pay scale.

Second, and more importantly for our students and schools here in Hillsborough county, we must push for a half penny sales-tax referendum. Whether citizen-led or district-led, we need to educate our community about how Tallahassee continues to starve us financially. Whether needlessly rolling back already low tax rates or outwardly supporting charters with nearly triple the PECO money, the Florida Legislature is unwilling to help. I believe, however, that the citizens of Hillsborough County will support us.

Last year Hillsborough County collected nearly $27 BILLION dollars in taxable receipts. If that were to remain steady, a one half penny sales tax would generate almost $133 MILLION per year. While the money would be limited to capital expense projects, think about how much good we could do for our students in our schools. In one year alone we could raise enough money to buy more buses, change out multiple HVAC systems, replace roofs, repaint numerous schools, add increased safety and security measures to our existing schools, AND still have enough money to build the new TTT high school as well as rebuild Lee Magnet. Beyond the physical structures themselves, the money may also be used to upgrade technology, purchase land, or servicing indebtedness from previous building projects.

We know more growth is coming to Hillsborough County. We know that new schools must be built and our nearly all of our existing schools need many, many repairs that we currently cannot afford. Now is the time to begin educating the rest of our county about the needs of our students. Now is the time to put a referendum before the voters. Now is the time to invest in our students and their future.

But perhaps more importantly, now is the time to take a stand against Tallahassee. There has been a revolution in public education taking place. It started in West Virginia, spread to Oklahoma, and is now taking off in Arizona and Kentucky. When will everyone in Florida stand up? This should not be about teachers striking. It should be about everyone who has a hand in Public Ed working together to force the Legislature to properly fund our needs. Think about these numbers for a moment: the national average of per-pupil spending is $11,392. In West Virginia, where these protests began, they spend $11,359; Oklahoma spends $8,082; Kentucky spends $9,630; and the only state that spends less than us is Arizona at $7,208. Remind me again how our $7,401 this year is “unprecedented, record funding”?

Now is the time for us to band together and demand a special session. After the Parkland shooting and Governor’s Scott promise of increased spending, Superintendent Eakins as well as other superintendents asked that the $400 million be added to the current spending levels; instead, the Legislature shuffled money around and left us with 47 cents. This cannot be ignored or accepted. It is my hope that all superintendents, along with all school board members, will stand with all teachers and ESPs and tell the Legislature to minimally provide the $400 million from the state’s $3.3 billion dollar cash pile. Even better, however, would be to hold the entire state’s accountability regime hostage by having all 67 districts not administer state tests until the Legislature makes a meaningful investment in public education. The time is now. The moment is here. And we must impress upon elected leaders that this sorely needed investment is for our children and their future.

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According to Governor Scott’s office, school districts have “plenty of money.”

We’ve had this problem since the Great Recession and Governor Scott came into office, but it’s one that has been largely ignored by Tallahassee: a lack of adequate funding for public education.

To have Governor Scott, Senate President Negron, and Speaker Corcoran tell their version of this story, however, comes across as boastful, always touting “record levels of funding,” despite the fact that superintendents across the Sunshine State point out, most famously by Superintendent Runcie, that Florida ranks 44th in per-pupil funding.

The Tampa Bay Times and Florida PolitiFact investigated these claims of “record funding” and rated them “half true,” and even that’s a stretch in my book.

And then there’s the most recent “plenty of money” comment from Governor Scott’s office when asked about the money allocated for increased school safety and security, which clearly has most school district officials hand-wringing over yet another underfunded mandate from our state’s capitol. His response to districts’ concerns about not having enough funding to cover these increased costs?

Take it out of your reserves.

Meanwhile, the state sits on a $3.3 BILLION dollar cash pile.

Clearly what’s good enough for the goose is NOT good enough for the gander. Why would Republican leadership, the party that champions itself on fiscal conservatism, encourage the school districts to engage in deficit spending? The state has more than enough money to really invest in public education–or at least for these student safety issues–yet it is unwilling to do so.

Many superintendents across the state–including our own here in Hillsborough County–asked the governor and legislators to not take the $400 million for school safety and security from the per-pupil spending, which is exactly what they did. Rather than pay for these additional needs out of the state reserves and then give us enough flexible funding to cover the extra costs, they instead repurposed the money that had been earmarked already for the education budget and left virtually all districts in a mess.

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And yet this lack of funding for school safety and security is only one small aspect of a much bigger, growing problem presented by the lack of public education investment: teacher salaries.

Florida already lags the nation in teacher salary averages (bottom ten states on every list), but the broader trend for all teacher salaries is even more alarming: from 1996 to 2015, adjusted for inflation, the national average of all teacher salaries actually declined by $1500, whereas the national average of all college graduates across the same two decades increased by $6500(!). This represents an average salary gap of 17.5% between public school teachers and their college-educated peers.

Where does that leave us? Just look to West Virginia, Oklahoma, and now Arizona. It is clear that the “Red for Ed” movement is gaining traction and momentum, and it is not just teachers who are threatening to strike if public education is not properly funded. While it is educators themselves who are leading the charge, it is evident that many parents, students, and community members support these teachers and want an increased investment in education, which would mutually benefit everyone.

The students, first and foremost, would have access to recent curricula, upgraded technology, smaller classes, and additional enrichment opportunities that come with greater funding, all of which would make for a brighter future for them and for us all. For the education professionals themselves, higher salaries would be an economic boon for the entire community in which the educators live because it would mean additional dollars spent on goods and services, thereby helping businesses in the local area. In essence, better funding and a proper investment in public education would foster a virtuous cycle of economic activity that will help students gain the best education possible, keep them here in Florida rather than being siphoned off by brain drain, and have them hired by local companies who are growing and expanding thanks in part to the largest public sector workforce in the state being able to live a little rather than work two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

John Romano’s recent column in the Tampa Bay Times highlights many of these issues, particularly how the lack of funding for the school safety and security measure will leave most school districts scrambling to fund this initiative while simultaneously facing increased costs for retirement contributions, health benefits, etc. He suggests that a special session be called to address the issue, and public education advocates couldn’t agree more.

But the truth is we need to do even more than that. A lot more. If our elected officials want to do something about the growing teacher shortage, they will have to make a sizeable investment to public education as a whole. Since Governor Scott came into office, the purchasing power of the “record funding” we’ve been given has deteriorated anywhere from $1400-$1600 per pupil depending on the inflation calculator and dates used. But the point is the same:

Tallahassee created this problem. Now it’s time to fix it.

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Pat Hall (second from left), the Education Committee Chair for the League of Women Voters, Hillsborough County Chapter

This episode of the Teacher Voice podcast focuses on one of the most critical issues facing the Sunshine State: the citizens and taxpayers of Florida being defrauded by the for-profit charter management corporations.

The guest on the podcast is Pat Hall, a retired public educator now turned public education advocate. Pat, along with other key players in the League of Women Voters, is on a mission to expose the fraudulent ways that these for-profit management companies keep nearly HALF of the money that is meant for students in the classrooms. Our discussion covers how these companies bilk the taxpayers while peddling influence at the state and local levels. Please listen and be sure to share with other concerned citizens and public education advocates!

If you’d like to learn more about this situation, Like or Follow the League of Women Voters of Hillsborough County on Facebook,  and be sure to click any of the linked articles below the LWV logo:

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2014 investigative piece by Noah Pransky of Channel 10 News about how Charter Schools USA were charging exorbitant rents and nearly had their charters pulled by Superintendent Elia

The League of Women Voters Education Blog curated by Dr. Sue Legg from the University of Florida (this link will open up to a post about for-profit charters)

An interim report written for the LWV by Pat Hall and Dr. Sue Legg about the business practices of Charter Schools USA

“Charter School Explosion” – A 7 part series written by Pat Hall and published exclusively in La Gaceta. All of these pieces are highly informative, but if you only have time for one, be sure to read part 5, “Following the Money,” which was featured by Diane Ravitch on her own education blog.

Charter School Explosion – Are They Fulfilling the Promise? (Part 1)

Charter School Explosion – Are They Fulfilling the Promise? (Part 2)

Charter School Explosion – Are They Fulfilling the Promise? (Part 3)

Charter School Explosion – Doing It Better

Charter School Explosion – Following the Money (MUST READ!)

Charter School Explosion – Accountable to Whom?

Charter School Explosion – On the Fringe of Legal?

Publisher’s note/two minor corrections: 1) SLAM stands for “Sports Leadership and Management”; 2) Hillsborough County School Board member for District 1, Susan Valdes, received $12,000 total (not as in a single day) from for-profit charter management companies or people during the last election cycle. $6,000 came on a single day (5/25/16), and the three individual checks I reference from John Hage (CEO of CSUSA), Charter Schools USA, and Red Apple Development were all donated on 12/17/15. You can find campaign contribution records for her or any elected official in Hillsborough County by clicking this link here.

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What the Florida Legislature has for Public Education: NOTHING

Well, thanks for 47 cents, actually.

On October 20, 2016, Emma Brown of the Washington Post wrote an article about the decline of funding in public education since the Great Recession beginning in 2008. The article can be accessed here, but the chart below says it all.

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Notice which state has the dubious distinction of being at the top of this list.

And this is the central point we should address with Governor Scott, Speaker Corcoran, and Senate President Negron: inflation. No one will deny that inflation has been at happening at historic lows due to the Federal Reserve’s use of monetary policy. But inflation has still occurred nonetheless. Costs continue to rise, and school districts all over the Sunshine State have been scrimping and saving to get by on shoestring budgets passed by the Florida Legislature during the last decade.

If we were to use the pre-recession high watermark of $7126 back in 2007-2008, adjusted for inflation that number would have to be $8726, which means eleven years later we are $1600 dollars behind. And yet across that intervening decade our costs continued to climb while the spending power of money earmarked for public education has continued to shrink despite the minuscule increases that have been made.

But let’s be honest with each other, Governor Scott, Speaker Corcoran, and Senate President Negron: all of you have been lying to the citizens of Florida. They are not outright lies per se, but they certainly are lies of omission. Take the word “unprecedented” that has been bandied about recently. That may be the biggest reach of any adjective in the English language the way you’re using it. It would be one thing if per-pupil spending in Florida suddenly jumped up to $10K…that might warrant an “unprecedented” tag. But simply calling any level of funding that tops the previous year’s “unprecedented” is abusing the adjective. The phrase “record funding” also belongs in this category.

My favorite, however, was this boast from Governor Scott’s Deputy Communications Director, McKinley Lewis: “Since Governor Scott has taken office, total operational funding for Florida schools is up 27 percent, while the amount of flexible funding to school districts has grown by 21 percent.” This is a classic case of cherry picking data to make the situation seem better than it really is. How so? The first year in office Governor Scott slashed education funding by just over 1 BILLION dollars. Look at the chart below for greater clarity. The modest decline in funding in the last two years of Charlie Crist’s tenure were a result of a state economy that is predicated on tourism and construction, both of which took a massive hit during the Great Recession. But the first budget approved by Governor Scott was the 2011-2012 budget and then the nominal increases over time for the rest of two terms. The most interesting observation about this data? The year Scott slashed the budget was toward the tail end of the macroeconomic trough we had experienced during the Great Recession and by 2012 we were in recovery mode.

Florida Ed Spending Last Decade

So why are we in such dire straits? Because of a lack of revenue (read more here). The GOP-led Florida Legislature wants to continually tout cutting taxes while starving essential services, plain and simple. All they clearly care about is the immediate future of their political careers, not making a meaningful long-term investment in the public institutions that will sustain future generations of Floridians for many years to come. There are numerous sensible solutions that have been proposed by many caring citizens, but these are roundly ignored by Tallahassee politicians who seem all to eager to cater to the whims of special interests and their donation dollars.

And so here we are. Governor Scott has signed the $88.7 billion budget, which increases the BSA (base student allocation) by a whopping 47 cents. All that remain are hard questions and disturbing facts:

How will this “unprecedented” level of funding help improve our national status as 44th in per-pupil spending? Numbers range in this metric: the highest seen has been 39th, whereas the lowest has been 50th when adjusting for certain factors; however, the number is consistently in the bottom ten states of the U.S.

How does the Florida Legislature and Governor Scott think this “record level” of funding will help abate the teacher shortage, especially in light of our salaries ranking 48th in the U.S. when adjusted for cost of living?

How long before we have a repeat episode of 1968? How long before teachers, which represent the largest public sector workforce in the state, demand that the Florida Legislature meaningfully fund public education? Even if we had kept apace with inflation and had $8729 per student, we would still be woefully behind the national average by at least $3000.

When will the Florida Legislature make a meaningful investment in our students and their future?

47 Cents
This just about sums up how all of us are feeling…

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Bill Person – Candidate for HCPS School Board – District 6

The latest guest on the Teacher Voice podcast is Bill Person, an Air Force veteran, a retired teacher and administrator with 35 years of experience, as well as a public education advocate. We sat down to discuss his current candidacy, his close race for the District 1 seat in 2016, and what needs to be done to help the current situation facing our school district.

If you’d like to learn more about Bill and his campaign, you can find additional information at his website. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter as well.

And if you are a current candidate running for an HCPS school board seat, whether running for the first time or seeking reelection, please email me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com so we can set up an interview on the podcast.

Thanks for listening and have an awesome week!

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The Florida Legislature wants to arm teachers as part of a “marshal program”

In the wake of the Parkland tragedy, ideas for how to make schools safer have taken over the current legislative session. Governor Scott forwarded his proposal, as did the House and Senate. While I applaud the multi-pronged approach including raising the age for gun purchases to 21, implementing a mandatory 3 day waiting period, better background checks, increased funding for mental health services, adding more SROs to campuses, et cetera, I firmly do not believe that arming teachers in schools should be part of the solution.

Before I get into the data and enumerate my reasons, let me unequivocally state the following: I am not “anti-gun” per se. I have handled guns, fired them, and fully comprehend the power that they possess. I believe it is reasonable for people to own a pistol, shotgun, or rifle for home defense or hunting. I do draw the line at assault weapons such as the AR-15, and do not believe anyone should have access to guns that have so much destructive power.

I am not a gun owner, however. And yet, as an independent voter and someone who assiduously tries to be a political moderate/centrist, I have no problem with those who own guns and even carry them legally with a concealed carry permit. But I object to arming teachers on mathematical and philosophical premises, which are intertwined and I hope to explain.

A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that nearly 60% of Americans are against arming teachers, and just over 60% of Americans want a full ban on assault weapons.

Beyond these two data points, I conducted my own hasty research today to provide additional data. Granted, I acknowledge my data set may be relatively small and considered insignificant, but it’s still illustrative of broader trends I’ve seen online and in other articles.

Administration: 100% of my school’s administration do NOT want teachers armed.

Students: 80.4% of my students do NOT want teachers armed and would NOT feel safer if teachers had guns on campus.

Teachers—and not just any teachers, I specifically only asked teachers who work at my school who also happen to also be veterans—86% do NOT want teachers armed and expressed additional reservations about this idea. In fact, Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science is a former Marine who teaches at another school in Florida and wrote an op-ed that expresses much of what I heard today.

Beyond the data points and still in the mathematical realm is basic probability. By adding any guns to any campus the chance of being shot at school statistically increases. It’s really that simple. It may not be much, but it would be an increase nonetheless.

There’s also the funding issue, which is one of my chief concerns. While Governor Scott certainly made headlines with his promise of $500 million dollars, how can the state even afford this? Each year it seems the state has to rob various trust funds just to keep up with rising costs because the Republican-led Legislature is so unwilling to raise fees or taxes, a stance that will, in the long run, completely jeopardize Florida’s future. And if the state simply had $500 million lying around, why wasn’t that already included in the education budget (or for healthcare, infrastructure, affordable housing, or any other number of priorities that could use the additional funding)? We cannot count on this to be recurring funding either, which would further hamstring an education system that is woefully underfunded and completely cash strapped.

From a philosophical perspective, schools are not places for guns, they are the physical manifestation of learning. They are places where each and every day caring adults try to instill good habits of mind and character. We want our children to become lifelong learners, to be engaged citizens, and to learn how to care for others in the broader community. Education professionals carrying guns will only heighten anxiety among our students and be disruptive to the learning process. Piles of studies have clearly demonstrated that students who are experiencing chronic stress do not learn well, and they’re already stressed out enough due to high stakes testing, bullying, social media, and just being a child in the 21st century in general. Why would we add to their stress?

More than anything else, I want every legislator in the state of Florida to take a long hard look at the political cartoon at the top of this post. Teachers are already overburdened, overworked and underpaid. We do so much for kids day in and day out, but we shouldn’t have to worry about being responsible for a gun on top of everything else we already do.

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C’mon, House of Representatives, it’s not that difficult…

Today’s Friday Five (read: rant) is about what happened this past Wednesday when the House summarily dismissed HB219, a bill sponsored by Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith that would have banned assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Representative Randy Fine then went on CNN to state why he and his fellow Republicans voted down the debate before it happened despite MSD High School students being present (although he somewhat comically claims to not have known they were there). After seeing this live on television while getting ready for work yesterday morning, I had to respond.

If you listen to this, please contact your local legislators and demand that they at least hear these bills. If they vote them down–which they most likely will–then so be it. But by allowing the debate to be had, it will be a small step in the right direction for the victims of the mass shooting in Parkland.

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Monday, February 26th, 6 p.m. at Tampa Theatre

BACKPACK FULL OF CASH Official Trailer from Stone Lantern Films on Vimeo.

Are you a concerned public education advocate? Interested in seeing a FREE movie about the for-profit charter school industry and the slow, steady privatization of public education here in the United States? If you answered yes to either question, you cannot afford to miss Backpack Full of Cash at Tampa Theatre on Monday, February 26th.

Those who know me personally or have been following the Teacher Voice project since its inception realize that I have no love lost on the for-profit charter industry, which, to be completely honest, is defrauding taxpayers here in Florida and all over the U.S. But before I make any further statements, let me preface the rest with the following two premises:

  1. Philosophically speaking, I have nothing against school choice. It would be disingenuous and hypocritical of me to work at a magnet school in an International Baccalaureate program and rail against school choice as a blanket indictment of all charter schools. What I do have a specific issue with is the lack of funding to support school choice in a meaningful way, because at the current substandard rate of funding here in Florida, it is the traditional public schools who suffer the most while trying to serve the 85+% of parents and students who still choose their neighborhood schools.
  2. Perhaps more importantly–as a taxpayer and fiscal watchdog–I find it absolutely shameful that there is so much corporate welfare and outright fraud happening right in front of our eyes. Our own Florida Legislature–especially elected officials who take donations from companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates–are complicit in the fraud because they are bilking taxpayers for tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars per year, the result being the slow and steady decimation of our public education system in the Sunshine State.

Not all charters are equal. Some of them are undoubtedly started by well-meaning, caring individuals who want to provide a niche program for our students. They are genuinely run by true non-profit boards and nearly every scarce per-pupil dollar is spent on students and the classroom.

The schools run by the for-profit charter school industry, however, siphon off much of the money to their bottom lines in various, ethically dubious ways. Here are a few examples: the for-profit company will install their own handpicked boards that in turn hire the company for “management,” and these fees routinely cost up to 15% of the school’s FTE; the for-profit company will demand that parents purchase supplies directly from the school itself, which is often another LLC that charges exorbitant rates for the basics; in many cases, the biggest part of the scam is one LLC (e.g. Red Apple Development, the construction arm of Charter Schools USA) will purchase land to build the school on and then turn around and charge the school (read: taxpayers) rent that is substantially higher than the going rate/property value, sometimes as high as a million dollars a year. Between all these scams, the for-profit charter magnates routinely take around 25% of all FTE that should go to kids and classrooms.

If you are a teacher here in Hillsborough County, last year alone the charter schools received approximately $125 million in FTE. If even half of our charters are managed by these companies, and if 25% of the money they are skimming from the top for their own bottom lines is correct, then that means they profited to the tune of nearly $16 million. That money could have done a lot of good in our school system, including funding all employees’ scheduled salary increases.

This movie is trying to expose a fraudulent trend spreading across America. As citizens, we have a civic duty to be informed and to demand our elected officials to STOP wasting precious taxpayer dollars, fostering and facilitating a peripheral education system that has little to no accountability,  and to make a real investment in public education that serves the interests of our children and their future, not padding the profit lines of these for-profit charlatans.

More Information About the Show

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This guest post was written by Michelle Hamlyn, a fellow teacher here in Hillsborough County Public Schools and member of Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.

I’m Angry

In the past, I’ve been heartbroken at the lives lost, the upheaval after, the despair of the families. This time I’m angry.

I’m angry that mass shootings keep happening in one of the richest, most civilized countries in the world. A country that should be able to figure this out.

I’m angry that schools need to be secured. How do you secure a playground, a PE field, a campus with multiple buildings? And do we want our schools to look like fortresses and prisons?

I’m angry that legislators are bought by special interest groups, leaving rational conversation and problem-solving in the dust. I’m angry that any conversation about gun control results in “You can’t take my guns.” I don’t want your damn guns. I want to have a conversation where you and I can find a solution to the current madness. But that would require us to both come from a stand of compassion and understanding, not defensiveness and posturing.

I’m angry that those same legislators have decimated mental health programs, even though the number of mentally ill people hasn’t diminished. I’m angry that the NRA doesn’t include lobbying for better mental health programs while they’re lobbying for gun rights. I’m angry that time and again, the controls in place have “missed something” about the shooter, thus rendering the controls pointless and dangerous. I’m angry that the government continues to tell us how safe we are, when anyone can see that we’re not.

I’m angry that legislators have also decimated public education and currently see it as a money-maker for billionaires. I’m angry that those decisions have led to public school policies that are conducive to school shootings, like not having enough mental health professionals on hand to adequately deal with students’ issues in a timely, meaningful manner. And stressing testing so much that students actually believe the test defines them. Which makes them even more stressed and more likely to lash out at others.

I’m angry that everyone thinks the solution to this is having more school resource officers. Or, even worse, in arming teachers, a ghastly idea that would probably result in so much more harm than good. Or that it’s somehow a child’s responsibility to “See something. Say something.” I’m angry that in districts across the country, there are teachers who have done just that and it has resulted in nothing being done.

I’m angry that districts are more concerned with their public images than with what’s really best for students. I’m angry that in some schools, teachers are told not to write referrals for bad behavior or to pass students who haven’t done any work just so the district can tout its data.
I’m angry that district spokespeople are busy reassuring parents their children are safe, when I know they’re not. How could they be if students keep getting shot at school?

I’m angry that helicopter and bulldozer parents coddle and enable their children to the degree they don’t understand right from wrong, or that actions have consequences, or that dealing with negative emotions is a part of life, thereby creating a child crippled by fear and anxiety, with no coping skills to deal with the reality of life. And then expect schools to fix it.

I’m angry that every time I try to get people to listen to all these things, I’m told I’m being too negative, that I’m on my soapbox again, that my passion for my students is really an excuse for my own unwillingness to change. I’m angry that I’m not looked at as an authority on the reality of today’s public schools. I’m angry that the people who are in charge never invite me or any other teacher to the table.

I’m angry that in addition to the never-ending responsibilities foisted upon teachers, one of those responsibilities includes keeping students safe in conditions I have no control over and in which I’m a hero if I die while saving students. It seems a lot to ask or expect. I became a teacher, not a soldier or a police officer or a firefighter.

Mostly, though, I’m angry that a human being decided to kill other human beings.

I’m angry that students who may have changed the world will never have that opportunity.

I’m angry that school personnel had to choose to irrevocably harm their own families to try and save other families.

I’m angry that families are broken and battered, and will never feel whole again.

And I’m angry that my students have to live in this world.

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A new day dawns in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy

After yesterday’s senseless and tragic act of violence at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, teachers all across the Sunshine State returned to work today ready to help their students and colleagues process what had happened the previous afternoon. In most of my classes throughout the day, I spoke of the active shooter training all teachers received at our school, shared some of the information we learned, but most importantly gave the students time to process these events—some students chose to ask questions and open up a dialogue, others wanted to chat with their shoulder partners, and a few remained dumbstruck by the gravity of a situation that struck so close to home.

As the day wore on, more and more students were willing to open up about their thoughts and feelings on the matter, and many of those who did opt to share had many insightful and poignant words on the matter. One student spoke of how she had lost an uncle to gun violence in a local neighborhood that has always seemed safe, and how her father, never originally a proponent of gun ownership, purchased and learned how to use a gun fearing his family’s safety after the loss of his brother. Another student spoke of the anxiety that all of these mass shootings have created, and that just last week when we had a fire drill he thought about how he and his friends would be easy targets for someone who wanted to harm them.

The most common theme that emerged from the students, though, was that something must be done to eliminate—or at least significantly reduce—gun violence here in our country and culture. Many of them debated ideas in an open and honest way, discussing how it must be a multi-pronged approach that includes better screening, raising age limits to purchase rifles of any kind, mental health resources, and most agreed that banning any and all types of assault rifles would be the prudent course of action. I sat back most of the time and listened, amazed that so much wisdom could come from high school juniors.

The lone interjection I made in much of these discussions was talking about the difference between Columbine, an event that happened nearly 20 years ago now, and what happened yesterday in Broward County. I told the students that when the Columbine shooting happened, the nation came to a standstill and was in utter shock that something like that could happen in the United States. Now, however, these mass shootings have happened so frequently, I was worried that we were becoming desensitized to them as a nation. In the last 18 months alone, we have had terrible shootings such as the Pulse nightclub, Vegas, the church in Texas, the Ft. Lauderdale airport, and now this. Though there may be more, these are the ones that immediately came to mind. All of us spoke of how much the normalization of these shootings have changed the ways in which we react to them. One student lamented the fact that as she drove her younger brother home yesterday he quipped “that’s it?” when they announced the final death toll on the radio, almost as if, in her words, “he was expecting more or that it wasn’t enough.”

At the end of each class, all the students were grateful to have had the opportunity to talk about yesterday’s events and to process their feelings. While it may have cost us a day of curriculum, a great deal of non-traditional learning transpired. It was an open, engaging dialogue to hold with the next generation, and especially interesting to hear their views, hopes, and fears for what the future may bring. We all agreed that something must be done about the frequency and scope of the gun violence that has become so rampant lately, and sooner rather than later.

Our collective hearts and minds go out to all of the victims and their families, their communities, and the rest of the people who were in any way touched by this tragedy. But today’s discussions and the ones that are surely to follow are only the beginning of the healing that is necessary the day after a senseless act of violence such as this. It will take time for all of us—especially our children—to recover from it, but we can help each other through this ordeal by lending to one another a listening ear and compassionate heart.

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President Negron and Honorable Senators:

My name is Ryan Haczynski and I am a veteran high school teacher living and working in Hillsborough County. I am writing to all of you today to respectfully request that you flatly reject HB7055. There are numerous problems with this bill, many of which were recently outlined in this editorial from the Tampa Bay Times.

The most troubling aspect to me, personally, is the subversion of our Florida Constitution. One would surmise that true conservatives would be outraged by these attempts to legislate around our most cherished legal document in the Sunshine State, but it would appear that is not the case. Last year, for instance, the Senate narrowly passed HB7069, which clearly goes against Article III, Section 6 that states: “Every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.” Last year, during the floor debate on HB7069, Senator Simmons presciently warned of an impending legal battle over this very matter. This year is no different. Not only does HB7055 have multiple subjects, the subject introduction(s) carry on for 11 pages; therefore, it should be struck down on constitutional grounds alone.

There is also the constitutional attack on workers’ rights to collectively bargain. Realizing that HB25 would not receive any traction in your chamber (much like last year’s HB11), the House has decided to package it into this train bill. Ostensibly, members of the House have stated that it only seeks to decertify teachers’ unions because it is an education bill, but the vast majority of the public, especially the nearly 200,000 teachers working in the state of Florida, believe it is an attack on our unions because we have been decrying the slow and steady starvation of public education funding that has left the entire state in financial dire straights. Again, how is this constitutional when Article I, Section 6 clearly guarantees “the right of employees, by and through a labor organization, to bargain collectively”? The very same section states that this right shall not be abridged or denied, but by attempting to decertify unions this legislation does exactly that.

Finally, in Article IX, Section 1 of our Florida Constitution, it calls for “adequate provision” of “uniform…high quality schools.” While the Legislature continues to be woefully behind on providing funding to keep up with rising costs across the last decade, HB7055, in a sudden show of largesse, will alter the PECO funding structure so that well over 3,000 traditional schools must split $50 million dollars while 650 charter schools, many of which are managed by for-profit companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates, will receive over $120 million and in future years will be chained to CPI (why has not all education funding handled this way?). How is this uniform? More critically, how is this not corporate welfare?

Senator Bradley has already taken a stand against the connection of funding attached to HB7055. Now I am encouraging the rest of the chamber to join him. At a minimum the above mentioned provisions must be removed, but my ultimate hope is that HB7055 will be completely rejected so that the House must go back to the drawing board, begin anew, and serve the will of the citizens of Florida rather than their political campaign contributors and other special interest groups who are clearly the only ones clamoring for such bad legislation.

Thank you for your time and attention in this matter.

Respectfully,

– Ryan Haczynski

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But before I say why I’m voting for Val, a confession: I never was a “union” person for the first decade of my career.

In the podcast in which I interviewed both Rob and Val (listen here), I talked about this at the end. I joined for two basic reasons: 1) out of gratitude for the new payscale that economically changed our lives for the better; 2) out of concern for what was happening to public education in Tallahasse, which began to make me sit up and take notice eight years ago in 2010. In fact, this op-ed that landed on the front page of the Opinion section of the Sunday edition of the Tampa Tribute was the first time I publicly waded into the waters of education policy here in the Sunshine State.

Thank you, Tallahassee, for making me realize why I needed to become part of a union.

As a member for the last four and half years, as well as a building rep for the last two years, and now executive board member for the last seven months, I am proud to be part of a dedicated group of education professionals who work incessantly to give each and every child the very best quality education while simultaneously advocating for all students and our entire profession.

Perhaps more importantly, being a member of HCTA has given me strength through solidarity and the courage to share my perspective with my “teacher voice.” But ultimately what being a member has taught me is that it’s not about any one person at all.

It’s about all of us. Together.

When I recorded the podcasts for all four of the candidates, I was trying to be as impartial as possible, which is why I asked five essential questions and did not interact with any candidate’s response. Every candidate had great things to say, and I wish I could have an amalgamation of them all. But I realize that’s not possible, which is why I have been pondering this decision for the last few months and only decided today.

In my mind, Rob Kriete and Val Chuchman are tied. I honestly cannot really separate them, mainly because they both bring numerous tangible assets to the role of president. I even went so far as to write out a list of pros and cons, and still couldn’t make up my mind.

My gut, however, tells me something else. It tells me that we are walking into a storm the likes of which I doubt anyone in our district has seen in the last twenty years. The locus of this storm, of course, is the capitol; what the GOP-led Legislature has wrought over the last two years between HB7069, HB7055, and more cannot be ignored, especially the unwillingness to truly invest in public education and instead take what scant money exists and pour it into dubious ventures that only erode the entire education ecosystem.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we all read about it a great deal a few years ago when it happened in Wisconsin. Now it seems as if “reformers” are trying to replicate that here, and we need someone who has the experience to take the fight to them by activating members and engaging our community partners.

We cannot afford to let them win.

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Val has this experience. She fought for teachers and all union workers in Wisconsin. She is not afraid to confront our elected officials, speaking truth to power while respectfully being a staunch advocate for all education professionals and our profession overall. Here’s one small sample and more can be viewed here. Anyone who watches will notice time and again Val going to bat for us all.

All candidates reached out to me for their support immediately after our current president, Jean Clements, announced her retirement. I was hesitant to fully commit to anyone, and I will say that initially Rob was my front-runner due to his diplomatic approach. But I knew I  wanted to interview them all myself to get a better grasp on who I would vote for while also informing our HCTA membership.

And after all the interviews and much thought, still unable to truly make up my mind, Val called. That really was the tipping point. More than anything else, Val’s tenacity tells my gut to vote for her. If she shows such persistence to earn a single vote, how relentless will she be as a leader and our next president? How dogged will she be in defending our education professionals throughout the entire district? How unflagging will she be in advocating for public education here in Florida? My gut says more than I can put into words.

Val’s got the fire. And that’s why I’m voting for her.

If you are an HCTA member, don’t forget that voting begins tomorrow at noon and will run through Wednesday, February 21st at noon. If you are not a member, I sincerely hope you consider joining; though you won’t be able to vote in this election cycle, you will still have a voice as a member and can help shape the future direction of our union.

This is about all of us. Together.

 

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Time to Tell Tallahassee to STOP!

Several people in the audience at last night’s HCPS School Board meeting asked me for a copy of my comments, so I figured it would be easier to post them here.  The indefinite “you” mentioned throughout would be our seven elected officials. Feel free to share with others so that our growing chorus of concern over the state of public education here in Florida becomes even stronger and louder.

No one likes a bully. We teach our kids how to stand together in solidarity against bullying, and we also tell them that when they see something to say something. Many would argue that silence in the face of bullying is to be complicit in the act itself.

Bullying has become a hot topic in Tallahassee this year. Bills like HB1 give vouchers to students so they can be uprooted from their school and go to another. Pay no attention to the fact there is no consequence for the bullies themselves, because simply removing the bullies would make too much sense.

The irony in all of this is that Tallahassee is the bully, and our 67 counties throughout Florida are the kids who are routinely picked on.

So when will you stand up? When will you say something? When will you fight back? You said nothing, and did nothing last year with HB7069. This year, when you’ve had time to be publicly outspoken about the new train bill, HB7055, you’ve said nothing again and, as cliché as it may be, the silence is deafening.

When all of you were elected, you swore an oath to protect the Florida Constitution. Personally, I am a constitutional conservative who believes we should obey the law as it is written, and I have railed against the multiple ways our Legislature has and continues to subvert our most important legal document by writing legislation to circumvent it.

HB7055 has an 11 page introduction and includes 32 subjects, violating a prime rule for how bills are to be written. It is a hodgepodge of education policy that is notably full of tax dollar giveaways to private and for-profit managed charter schools. It includes language that will decertify teacher unions that do not maintain at least a 50% membership, which flies directly in the face of Article I Section 6 that states employees’ rights to collectively bargain shall not be abridged or denied. Worst of all, Speaker Corcoran has added proviso language to the bill that effectively holds all of the state’s education funding hostage unless this trainwreck is passed.

Have you even read HB7055 yet? My guess is no, because if you had you might have recognized the fact that all of you are looking at a pay cut. The bill amends statute 1001.395, which means you will be paid by the established formula or at the same level as a first year teacher, whichever is less.

But let’s get back to your duties as our local education representatives. Specifically, I’d like to review the “core values” listed in the School Board’s Way of Work document.

  • #6 – Vigorously and intelligently advocate for the School District and its students on the local, state, and national level.
  • #7—Commit, both individually and collectively, to being well-informed and educated on local, state, and national educational issues, initiatives and practices.
  • #20—Take children’s interests first. The board will represent the needs and interests of all children in our district.

While you undoubtedly exemplify these core values in some areas, you have and continue to be lacking in advocating for our district on the Legislative front. If you are doing any advocacy, it certainly is not in the Sunshine.

We need elected officials, School Board members in particular, who are willing to take the fight directly to Tallahassee. Our School Board is desperately in need of a true education advocate who is outspoken and will stand up to the bully in the capitol. We need School Board members like Billy Townsend in Polk or Charlie Kennedy in Manatee, elected officials who stand up for their own districts against the dictatorship that is the House.

Who will become our outspoken champion? Who will join the concerned educators and parents in this fight? We need you now more than ever. Our kids need you now more than ever. Public education needs you now more than ever.

It’s tragically comical how much Tallahassee complains about the Federal government dictating terms to them yet turn around and do the exact same thing to the counties in turn. I believe in local control. I believe that our people, here working in our district, educating our children know what’s best for our community. But until we take a united stand against this bully and shout stop at the top of our lungs, Tallahassee will continue to tell us what to do. Which one of you will stand with me? Stand with us? For the sake of our students and their future, I hope all of you will. Thank you.

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The Florida Public Education System under HB7069 and HB7055

Got some time to spare? You might want to read the language of HB7055, the tumescent bill brought to the citizens of Florida by Corcoran, Diaz, Bileca et al. What started off as a 109 page bill covering multiple topics has now ballooned to 198 pages after a couple committee stops. In its current form it has an 11 page introduction and covers 32 different subjects, which is why many critics of the legislation have dubbed it a “train bill.”

But this is a misnomer.

HB7055 is not a train bill. It’s a trainwreck. And it will have a devastating impact on public education here in Florida.

For those who haven’t been keeping up with the latest Tallahassee shenanigans since the start of committee work back in September, there is one theme that is running through many of this year’s bills—subvert the Florida Constitution by legislating around it. Two strong examples are the proliferation of vouchers and attack on teachers’ unions.

Despite all the problems that have recently cropped up in the last year concerning the utter lack of accountability for private schools and for-profit managed charters receiving public taxpayer dollars, Speaker Corcoran seems intent on giving more and more money away to those who will line their own pockets rather than educate our children. It’s not enough that educational vouchers to religious schools have already been struck down by the Florida Supreme Court during the Jeb Bush era, or that Governor Scott’s stacked deck of CRC players is also trying to remove the Blaine amendment, Corcoran and his army of yes-men in the House will continue to write bills this way to economically undermine the entire public education system despite the outcry from engaged and enraged citizens.

No one is asking for these giant bills like HB7069 and HB7055. Well, except for the Koch brothers (and their lobbying arm, Americans for Prosperity) who are investing in politicians—including Corcoran—to dismantle the entire public education institution brick by brick under the pretense of reform and/or school choice. The only thing the Kochs and their lackeys care about is the commodification and monetization of our children and their learning.

And who finds this the most distressing? Public education advocates in general, and teachers in particular. So what is the House to do? Silence the teachers. How? By making it difficult to unionize and thereby have some semblance of control over their contracts, salaries, workplace conditions, and the exercise of their First Amendment rights without fear of retribution.

Let’s completely set aside the fact that this legislation will provide yet another end run around the Florida Constitution by potentially stripping educators of their constitutionally guaranteed “right of employees, by and through a labor organization, to bargain collectively.” (Article I, Section 6) The legislation is redundant because employees can choose to decertify their union if they ever deemed it necessary, so all the bill really seeks to do is shut down any union with less than 50% membership and have them jump through numerous officious hoops on an annual basis.

But worse than the redundancy and officiousness of the language in the bill is the rhetoric and so-called logic being proffered by Education Committee chair, Michael Bileca, who recently stated “the 50 percent threshold is intended to preserve the rights of the majority” and that “a minority leadership…is not a voice for the majority.”

Really, Representative Bileca? You do know where you live, don’t you? The United States of America, the country that always lives under minority leadership. Case in point: the 2016 election cycle. Roughly 60% of all eligible voters turned out at the polls. Of that 60%, 48.6% voted for Hillary Clinton and 46.2% voted for Donald Trump. 46.2% of the roughly 60% of the voters means that our current president now holds office because 27.7% of Americans voted for him. You know what that is? A minority rule.

These numbers also bear out at smaller scales such as state level elections, which means the legislation that the so-called “majority” keeps passing is not intended for the majority of the Sunshine State’s citizens at all. Instead, these bills are a means of repayment to the plutocratic overlords who bestow their largesse on political operatives who are in turn willing to sell out our own children in the name of corporate welfare, crony capitalism, and the decimation of public education as an institution.

It’s a foregone conclusion that HB7055 will pass the House along party lines at some point this week. Our only hope is that the more balanced body, the Florida Senate, will seek to avert this trainwreck that will slowly derail all of public education as we know it.

Contact your Senators now and demand they prevent this trainwreck from happening.

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Felecia Johnson                                                                   Leo Haggerty

This week’s podcast is a special edition for members of Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. After interviewing the first two presidential candidates about a month ago, two more, Felecia Johnson and Leo Haggerty, announced their intentions to run as well. In order for our membership to hear from the candidates themselves, I reached out to them both in order to ask them the same questions. Take a listen to what they had to say.

If you’re a teacher or ESP currently working in Hillsborough County who is not a member, please consider joining. Or, if you are listening elsewhere in the state, I hope you join your own local union. We need to band together now more than ever. As Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend recently wrote, the teachers’ unions are the only positive force in Florida’s education model.

Thanks for listening and for your membership in HCTA!

P.S. – And if you missed the first podcast with Rob Kriete and Val Chuchman, you can listen to it here or scroll down to Episode 14 on the main page.

 

The latest guest post on Teacher Voice is written by Dr. Joel W. Gingery, PharmD. He is a retired clinical pharmacist who has since gone on to become a public education advocate. He is a current member of the St. Petersburg NAACP Education Committee, which focuses on economic and educational development in south St. Pete within Pinellas County.

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. – Plutarch

Imagine: You’re in New York City on the fifth floor of the The Museum of Modern Art, looking at Le Domoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso.  Picasso is a Spanish artist, but he’s in Paris when he paints this.  The title translates to ‘The Young Ladies of Avignon’, which refers to a street that’s not in France but is in Barcelona and associated with prostitution. What we’re looking at is a brothel.

Prostitutes
Le Domoiselles d’Avignon – Pablo Picasso

Les Domoiselles d’Avignon is one of the monumental works in the genesis of modern art. The painting, almost 8 ft x 8 ft square, depicts five naked prostitutes in a brothel; two of them push aside curtains around the space where the other women strike seductive and erotic poses—but their figures are composed of flat, splintered planes rather than rounded volumes, their eyes are lopsided or staring or asymmetrical, and the two women at the right have threatening masks for heads. The space, too, which should recede, comes forward in jagged shards, like broken glass. In the still life at the bottom, a piece of melon slices the air like a scythe.

In its brutal treatment of the body and in its clashes of color and style, Les Domoiselles d’Avignon marks a radical break from traditional composition and perspective.

For many art historians, this painting is seen as a break with 500 years of European painting that begins with the Renaissance.  It is a reaction to the oppressiveness with which post-Renaissance culture, its mannerisms, the Baroque neoclassicism, the academies of the nineteenth century, all weighed on the contemporary artist.  This painting is the foundation on which Cubism is built.

 

Picasso Self-Portrait
Pablo Picasso – Self Portrait – 1907

Picasso was one of the greatest and most influential artists of the twentieth century.   He is the inventor of collage, but, most of all, he is associated, along with Georges Braque, with pioneering cubism.  Considered radical in his work, he made use of any and every medium.

His total artistic output has been estimated at 50,000 separate works:  1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, roughly 12,000 drawings; and multiple other works, including tapestries and rugs.  Picasso continues to be revered for his technical mastery, visionary creativity and profound empathy.

Picasso was born on October 25, 1881, in Málaga, Spain, into a middle class family.  His father was a painter and art teacher who specialized in naturalistic depictions of birds and other game.  Picasso expressed his artistic talents early.   At age 16 he was admitted to the most prestigious art school in Spain.   But he detested the formal training, and, shortly after arriving, he left the school to make his way on his own.  Picasso would have never become the creative visionary that he became by continuing in formal schooling.   The only way for him to become ‘Picasso’ was out of school.

The Purpose of Education

In 1911, about the same time Picasso painted Le Domoiselles, Fredrick Winslow Taylor stated in his book “Principles of Scientific Management” that the duty of enforcing standards of work rests “with management alone.”  This attitude still permeates most of our organizations, whether we realize it or not.

Taylor felt that only management had the right and ability to see the big picture and make decisions.  This “command and control” mentality proved more effective when businesses were organized as hierarchies.  When the work is routine and only requires obedience, compliance, and perseverance, it is the type of work that is easily automated.

In today’s inter-connected, networked enterprise, everyone has to see their portion of the system and make appropriate decisions of their own.  Their work increasingly deals with more complex tasks that require creativity, curiosity, empathy, humor, and passion; the type of work that is difficult to automate and humans are good at.

A new skill set and mindset is required.  Employees need to learn how to be more adaptable, courageous, and resilient, as well as how to connect, collaborate, influence and inspire others.   More importantly, a sense of curiosity and thirst for learning and innovation is essential.

Unfortunately, many of our educational institutions are not sufficiently preparing learners for this new world of work; of shifting learner attitudes and mindsets from passive entitlement to active accountability.

To compound the situation, in our naivete’, we supported accountability initiatives that demand standardization. We asked:  “How can we hold schools, teachers, students, parents, etc., accountable, so they’ll give kids the education we want them to get?”

The result has been a rigid, technocratic, highly systematized and numbers-driven approach to reform, built on big new bureaucracies, costing millions to grind out and analyze countless billions of data points whose connection to children’s real educational success is tenuous at best.

Designed as they are to make the public education system dysfunctional, is it any wonder that these accountability systems fail?  They are impersonal and unresponsive to the real needs of real people. People are curious, interested creatures, who posses a natural love of learning; who desire to internalize the knowledge, customs and values that surround them.

These evolved tendencies for people to be curious, interested, and seek coherence of knowledge, would seem to be resources to be cultivated and harnessed by educators as they guide learning and development.

Too often, however, educators introduce external controls, close supervision and monitoring, that create distrustful learning environments. Essentially, they reflect external pressures on teachers that motivation is better shaped by external reinforcement than by facilitating students’ inherent interest in learning. Under such controlling conditions, however, the feelings of joy, enthusiasm, and interest that once accompanied learning are frequently replaced by feelings of anxiety, boredom, or alienation. They create the self fulfilling prophesy so evident in many classrooms, whereby students no longer are interested in what is taught, and teachers must externally control students to “make” learning occur.

America needs to rethink what it really wants from schools.

Answering this question takes creativity and insight, and courage, because answering requires us to rethink who we are and what it means to be human.

If we are truly passionate about an education system that supports the development of a learning environment in which the learner can grow into his or her highest future potential, we need to challenge ourselves to explore the reality of our situation and follow through with the appropriate action.

Half a century ago James Baldwin warned against this giving in to the tendency to minimize its importance: “This collision between one’s image of oneself and what one actually is is always very painful and there are two things you can do about it, you can meet the collision head-on and try and become what you really are or you can retreat and try to remain what you thought you were, which is a fantasy, in which you will certainly perish.”

Education is by and for the people. People whose purposes in life can’t be standardized or captured in numbers and technocratic systems.  People who are embedded in a bewildering variety of relationships and communities that shape who they are and what their lives mean. People who cannot be the one-size-fits-all interchangeable cogs that our technocratic, educational accountability systems need them to be to function.

Thanks for reading, everyone. As always, if you’d like to be a guest contributor to the Teacher Voice project (or discuss education issues on the podcast), please email me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com.

 

 

 

FCS

This edition of the podcast is an interview with high school science teacher, Brandon Haught, who is a founding board member and communications director for Florida Citizens for Science, a grassroots organization of concerned science education stakeholders that began in 2006.

During our conversation, we talk about last year’s textbook challenge bill, HB989, which has since become law, how it’s already been used in Nassau county, as well as legislation that is moving through both the House and Senate this session. All concerned education advocates should be paying attention to HB825 and its Senate companion SB966, which both deal with “controversial theories and concepts.” The other bills we discuss concern “textbook adoption” and are known as HB827 and SB1644 respectively.

If you’d like to get involved, please reach out to your legislators and tell them to vote no on these bills. And be sure to check out the good work being done by Brandon and the rest of the Florida Citizens for Science organization.

Thanks for listening and have a great week!

IMG_1612

Whistleblowers serve an important function in a free and democratic society. They serve as a bulwark against corruption and unethical behavior, and are a voice for the masses who feel powerless to fight back. And, more often than not, they carry on this important work anonymously.

Governments recognize and respect the work that these people do, which is why we have legislation at both the state and federal levels to protect those who have the courage to stand up and speak out against those who unscrupulously wield their power. These people should be commended for taking on the injustices found in both the private and public sectors.

It was alarming, then, to witness the unfolding of events at last night’s school board meeting here in Hillsborough County. For those reading beyond our borders, a popular local Facebook page, the Hillsborough County School Board Whistleblower, sprouted up shortly after our previous superintendent, Mary Ellen Elia, was unceremoniously removed from her post without cause in January of 2015. Over the last three years, the page has grown a large following while being critical of several of the board members on a wide range of issues.

During the meeting, a concerned citizen named Jason Ferger addressed the board about several issues, specifically the lack of transparency in their dealings with one another, which should happen “in the sunshine” according to state law. It was at the end of his address that one of our school board members, April Griffin, outed him as being the administrator of the Whistleblower page while simultaneously dragging another school board member, Melissa Snively, into the fray, despite the fact that she was absent from the dais. It was both shocking and unprofessional to say the least.

To be honest, Mr. Ferger may or may not be the person I interviewed a couple of months ago over the phone. The more important point is that, based on what I gleaned from our discussion, the Whistleblower is more than any one person at this point–it is a movement. And this movement is comprised of any and all stakeholders who are concerned about the surfeit of challenges facing our school district here in Hillsborough County. From what he described, the page routinely receives dozens of tips in any given week, and anyone who has sent along tips or helped dig through records requests to put together the facts may as well be the Whistleblower him/herself.

Which makes me the Whistleblower, too.

Over a year ago, I received a tip from a friend who told me that the district was purchasing 8,000 laptops. We apparently were about to significantly overpay for them because one of our other school board members, Susan Valdes, questioned the item and had it pulled from the agenda before a vote. Summation: the contract went to a local company whose CEO donated $1000 to her most recent election campaign. So I passed along the tip and then got an email back asking if I could help.

Attached to this email were pages upon pages of emails, purchase orders, bidding sheets; it was mind-boggling to behold at first. Relishing the opportunity to do some investigative work, I dug in, sifted through all the information, organized it onto a spreadsheet, and then sent it back. After a few more email exchanges, we were able to create a timeline, and then the page took the information public.

It has since been accepted by the Florida Commission on Ethics, and the investigation is one of two that are currently on-going (as far as I know).

My point is this: whoever you are, dear reader, you are powerful. We all are. As I said to someone last night, anyone who is helping to provide greater transparency by holding democratically elected officials accountable to their citizens is the very definition of what it means to be a good American. We have a right and responsibility as citizens of the United States to be informed, engaged, and acting on our civic duty. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I am the Whistleblower.

And if you have ever helped that page and the cause, then so are you.

We are all the Whistleblower.

Sleeping Kids
Potential “Credit Recovery” Candidates

On the heels of my previous post, “Cooking the Books,” another teacher from elsewhere in Florida sent along the piece you will read below. While I only focused on exams in the last post, they are only one small cog in the graduation rate manipulation machine. The problems mentioned in this teacher’s post are REAL.

I am not a fan of “credit recovery” efforts in my school district.  I think they are burdensome to teachers who are already overworked and underpaid.  They provide students who choose to underperform in class a way out, which is punitive to those students who work hard all school year. Our “credit recovery” efforts in my district also do not align completely with state statute because our district is taking advantage of the statute’s ambiguity.

In my central Florida district, if a secondary student receives a D or an F for a school quarter they are given a “credit recovery” packet.  This “credit recovery” packet is given to students every, single, 9 weeks.  The packet is usually designed by the teacher of whichever core subject was failed and given to the student to complete.  Upon the completion of the packet, the teacher is to give that student a “C”.  There is no universal packet because it will vary by teacher, subject, grade level, and school.  A student who is taking a 6th grade social studies class at School A will get a very different packet to the 6th grader taking social studies at School B.

I want you to imagine that you’re a teacher and you have lovingly prepared engaging lessons using multiple teaching techniques that cater to a variety of learning styles, but also that meet state standards.  You arrive to work early on a daily basis in order to make sure your room is set up properly, get your copies made, ensure your technology is working properly, maybe grade some papers, and enjoy a few quiet sips of coffee.  However, every day little Bobby doesn’t participate in the lesson or complete any activities.

Little Bobby doesn’t even bother to put his name on any of the papers.  All little Bobby seems to do is sleep or play on his phone.  As a teacher, you try to counsel him one-on-one to encourage him.  Nothing changes.  You then call home on several occasions.  Nothing changes.  You go to guidance, a more seasoned educator, a coach, your administration, ESE teachers, the school psychologist, and check to see if little Bobby has an IEP/504 to ensure you are following all of his accommodations (if any).  You even provide him missing assignments weekly for him to make up. Still nothing changes.

Nine weeks go by and report cards are getting ready to come out.  Little Bobby has a 0% F in your class.  All your documentation for every parent communication, accommodation, and effort you’ve put in to trying to help this particular student is ready.  Then you get told by your administration that you now have to design him a “credit recovery” packet that goes over everything you did in the previous 9 weeks.  He is given 2-3 weeks to complete it, and upon completion you must give him a 75% for the 9 weeks.  Little Bobby repeats this same behavior every 9 weeks. This is a student who is clearly not proficient in the subject matter but because of the system, he is still going to get pushed through.

The Florida statute 1003.413(2)(d) states “credit recovery” should be “…competency based and offered through innovative delivery systems, including computer-assisted instruction.”  A packet is not innovative nor is it computer-assisted instruction. The intention was to use an online platform we lovingly call E2020, which provides content for core curriculum, elective, advanced placement, career and technical courses, and “credit recovery”.  It’s supposed to be for a semester.  This program alleviates the burden of teachers having to create and grade “credit recovery” packets on top of our already burdensome workload. But the programs also requires another prep, which means either the district will need to pay a teacher to give up their planning period or hire another teacher to teach those E2020 courses.  As it stands, having teachers create the packets puts the burden solely on them and there’s no accountability as to whether or not the packets actually meet the standards.

Kids are not dumb, and when kids learn how to work the system to their advantage they will do it.  I have had these students throughout my career as an educator who have stated there is no reason for them to work in class because they know they will get “credit recovery” and get moved along.  They do not have the impetus to do otherwise.

However, even when given a “credit recovery” packet there are still kids who do not complete the packets.  I think at my school we had over 160 students receive a “credit recovery” packet in one of the four core class (Social Studies, ELA, Science, and Math) during the first quarter of this school year. Only 40 students turned in a completed “credit recovery” packet. I often hear how “Kids are kids, and they make mistakes” when I discuss this issue with people outside of education.  They’re right…kids make mistakes all the time.  But the best way to learn from our mistakes is to receive a natural consequence.  A natural consequence for not doing your work in class is to fail that class, at least for the quarter.  In the hope, that the student will get their act together.

In my opinion, we should allow the students one opportunity for a “credit recovery” packet from the teacher.  If the student fails to meet the requirements of the packet, then that student’s grade needs to stand.  If that student’s performance still leaves something to be desired and they have a “D” or an “F” for the semester, they should be provided opportunity for E2020. If they fail E2020 and still continue with their lackluster performance they need to fail the course.  They need to go to summer school or repeat the course the following year. We need to prepare them for college or the workforce.  By allowing a student to do nothing all school year and give them multiple opportunities to make up their grade to a “C” is not a reflection of reality.  If you fail a course in college there is no “credit recovery”.  If you fail to finish a task given to you by your employer, you could be fired. There has to be a better way, and what we have now isn’t it.

Thanks for reading, everyone. The Teacher Voice project is always looking for guest authors, whether anonymous or not; I have always envisioned this blog and podcast to be a diverse and collaborative endeavor. If you’d like to contribute and share your “teacher voice” (and you don’t have to be a teacher, any education advocate is welcome to submit pieces), please email me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com

cooking_the_books_2112965
FLDOE…and by extension every district in the state of Florida

One week ago yesterday, Hillsborough County Public Schools announced that its graduation rate had jumped 3.8 points to reach its highest total yet, 82.9%.

And in the midst of what should be encouraging news, I cannot help but feel unavoidably ambivalent. While I am glad that so many students earned their high school diploma here and across the state of Florida, I wonder how many of them—especially the bottom quartile of graduating classes—are truly prepared for college or career, let alone life.

Anyone who has been teaching for the last decade and has been paying attention to this so-called accountability movement unfold is aghast at the amount of grade inflation taking place. As a high school teacher, I have watched with dismay over the years as we continually lower our expectations for students, especially on the semester exams when we try our best to give students grades they don’t deserve.

The state of Florida ensures that students pass certain classes in order to be considered worthy of a high school diploma, and in the chart below I pulled the percentages that constitute passing scores for exams within the “core classes”—language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. The scores that our students must achieve on these exams are low.

Really low.

Exam Samples

I pulled well over two dozen scales out of curiosity and the numbers generally fall in line with what is seen above. Students typically need to only get approximately 70% of the questions correct to earn an “A” (most tended to be in the upper 60s) and, even more shockingly, only have to correctly answer 37% of the questions to earn a passing grade of D.

Perhaps it’s simply my age at this point, or the fact that I grew up in Rhode Island, but in my hometown you could earn an A, B, C—there was no D option—or an F. If a student received any grade lower than a 70 on any assessment whatsoever, it was considered a failing grade. To my recollection, there were no curves on exams either; I only learned of the existence of such curves when I attended college, and even then they were done on a standard bell curve distribution, which ensured that the majority of students earned a C, not an A.

The most pernicious aspect of this grade inflation is the false sense of confidence it instills in students. When I was teaching regular level Geometry, for instance, the students who earned high marks such as an A or B strutted around like proud peacocks until I had all of the students calculate the averages for themselves so that they could see the cutoffs with their own eyes. As their teacher, I knew that these students were nowhere near a level of mastery that these inflated exam grades seemed to indicate, which is why I had to disabuse them of this notion before we entered the second semester. Some were disappointed when they discovered how low the averages truly were, but if nothing else it motivated them to work that much harder in the second semester.

For a number of struggling students, however, this is not the case. There is a considerable amount of gamesmanship on the part of these students because they know that the scales will bail them out and let them pass. I’ve seen with my own eyes a few students who were so completely apathetic that they pencil whipped the bubble sheet without opening the exam, put their heads down, and went to sleep.

And, yes, those scores still counted as part of my VAM.

Looking at the chart below, it is easy to see why these unmotivated students use this strategy. For example, a student who earned a D for both the first and second quarter only needs to get a D on the exam to pass and earn credit towards his or her diploma. In fact, a student can FAIL one quarter, earn a D in the other, and then get a C on exam (which is about the same odds as calling a coin flip) and still get credit for the semester.

EOC Exam Scale
And for non-EOC courses outside the core, it’s even EASIER to get a passing grade.

On top of this, many teachers in Hillsborough and across the entire state feel the pressure from district administration to help these kids pass, whether that means offering lots of extra credit opportunities, not giving a grade below 50%, etc. Surely the outcome will be similar to the unfolding debacle in D.C. , but for now most are willing to turn a blind eye so long as they can tout rising graduation rates across the Sunshine State. And so we pass these struggling students along from one grade to the next until they walk across that stage, shake someone’s hand, and receive a diploma that they didn’t truly earn.

The truth always comes out, however…

If there is one statistic that demonstrates how our K-12 test-driven education model is failing our students here in Florida, it’s the number of students needing remediation (now euphemistically labeled “developmental education” or DE) when they arrive at college. Florida State University has a program that tracks much of this data, the Center for Post Secondary Success, and statistics found in those articles are illuminating: 70% of students entering a local community college, as well as 50% of students entering a four-year university, are in need of remediation in reading, writing, or math. How can these students have demonstrated proficiency in high school, earn a diploma, and then suddenly need help with the basics?

In the end, I’m truly torn about this situation. As Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend recently wrote (please read it; the entire piece is great), these students who struggle are better off with a high school diploma than without it. Even if these students never go on to higher education, the diploma will prevent them from a life of economic hardship and misery. Without the diploma, however, these students would be doomed. Ultimately, we have to do better, and that will begin when we start having honest conversations about how the entire metric is a sham and only invites this type of manipulation by the state and districts all across Florida.

RKrieteVal Headshot

Rob Kriete                                                       Val Chuchman

The latest Teacher Voice podcast is an interview of the two candidates who are running to replace the current HCTA president, Jean Clements, who is stepping down due to her retirement. I sat down to get each of the candidates platforms and perspectives, and each of them were given the five main questions ahead of time (although I did ask a bonus question that neither of them were expecting). Both were also told that they would have up to two minutes to answer each question to ensure both had the same amount of time to get their messages across. If you’d like to learn more about Rob or Val, please click their names above and these links will take you directly to their respective campaign websites.

While this podcast is primarily for the HCTA members, the candidates and I wanted to publish this for all to hear. For non-member employees, we hope you consider joining us; not only will you be able to cast your vote for one of the two candidates, but you will be banding together in solidarity with teachers and ESPs from all over Hillsborough and across the state of Florida. You can find out more information and join HCTA here. For those of you who are community partners and education advocates, this would the first glimpse of who the potential president of HCTA will be.

Thanks for listening, everyone. Please be sure to share with others and consider joining HCTA if you are not already a member!

SaveOurPublicSchools

This entry is the second guest post on Teacher Voice. Any other teachers want to share their perspectives on education issues? Please email 1teachervoice@gmail.com. As today’s guest blogger, Kimberly-Jo Foster’s friend says, “unite and fight.”

Fight for Public Education

By Kimberly-Jo Foster

Today, many of my co-workers and myself are wearing red in support of Deyshia Hargrave.  For any readers who are unaware, Deyshia Hargrave is a middle school ELA teacher in Louisiana who was recently arrested after speaking at a school board meeting. You can read more about that here.  No one in that room did anything to help her.  We teach our students and children how to identify bullies, victims, and bystanders in similar situations, but as adults we handle those situations just as poorly. In a recent interview, the Superintendent said he failed to speak up when he should have.  A board member even stated after the arrest that is how women in Vermilion Parish are treated.

Ms. Hargrave thought it was pertinent to address the Superintendent’s raise because his contract with a raise and car were up for a vote, and it was relevant. The superintendent in Vermilion Parish was getting a $30,000+ raise with a car that would have gas and maintenance provided by the school district. Whereas, Vermilion Parish teachers have a starting salary of about $39,548 and haven’t had a raise in 10 years. On top of which, they have class sizes that are outrageously large which make teaching an even more monumental task.

Ms. Hargrave was not rude, out of order, or speaking out of turn.  She did not resist arrest.  The only moment of “resistance” we see in the video is Ms. Hargrave speaking directly to a board member asking “Is it against policy to stand?”  The police officer tries to grab her arm, and she says “Sir, do not”.  She has every right to not be touched.  In that moment, she was not under arrest and after that she did leave without causing a scene.  Within under two minutes of leaving the room, we hear that she is being arrested and see her on the ground.  Ms. Hargrave, who is substantially shorter than the deputy, is having a difficult time getting to her feet and moving at the pace of the officer as she is taken out of the building in handcuffs.

This event speaks to two things in my mind: the poor treatment of women in this country and the attacks on public education.  In this country, particularly here in Florida, public education is under constant attack in favor privatization and for-profit charters. Ms. Hargrave is an example of an educator speaking out about how unfair the divide is between teachers, top administrators, and policy makers.  We are doing the most work for very little pay in comparison to those who are no longer on the front lines educating students.  Educators rarely get credit for the successes we have in the classrooms, but all the failures get laid out at our feet. It is important that as educators, parents, and citizens that you attend public school board meetings.  Listen to what is going on in your school district regardless of whether or not you have a student enrolled in a public school.  Pay attention to legislation that impacts education at a national and state level. Don’t forget to vote in national, state, and local elections.  If we do not unite together as educators and community members to save our public schools more abuses like this will occur, and it will further disenfranchise groups of already struggling students.  Abraham Lincoln once said “A house divided against itself cannot stand”, and it’s time we all stood together to fight for public education.

misogyny_feature

Let’s be clear: Scott Plakon’s House Bill 25 is an attack on women and professions dominated by them.

While there may be plenty of fellow male colleagues at my school or any high school, the teaching profession is largely comprised of women. The data I saw when I did a quick search may be a few years old, but roughly 75-80% of all teachers working today are female.

HB25 is a bill, then, that is grossly misogynistic. Although on its surface it is an unnecessary layer of accountability that seeks to control and regulate union membership, the most troubling aspect is this particular part seen below:

HB25-1HB25-2

What else is one to construe from these obvious exceptions? Nothing. It seems clear that if you are in a male dominated field—which all of the above clearly are—then you do not have to meet these requirements. So much for equality under the law…

And this is not the first time Representative Plakon has gone after women. He did it last year when he proposed HB1, which was effectively the same bill. When questioned on the House floor last year by a fellow legislator as to why police, fire, and prison guards were not included, he said something along the lines of teachers are not the ones running toward the danger; the other legislator responded with a reminder of the teachers at Sandy Hook who sacrificed their lives to save those of their students.

Clearly that did not make an impression on Mr. Misogyny.

I would hope that any teacher would do his or her best to protect the lives of the children we serve each and every day. Plakon’s ridiculous comment about teachers not running toward danger is thoroughly insulting, especially to the teachers who are veterans that served our country in the armed forces, some of whom I work with on a daily basis at my school. In fact, I can think of one former U.S. Marine in particular in my district who is tough as nails, and she would probably have a few choice words for Representative Plakon about this bill.

Even more troubling than the bill itself, however, is that fact that we’re already facing an incredible teacher shortage that the Florida Legislature is apparently hell-bent on making far, far worse in every way imaginable. As if all the unfunded mandates coming down from Tally aren’t bad enough, now they want to “decertify” unions and take away collective bargaining and any remaining vestige of job security educators currently have.

And if you think the teacher shortage is bad, we’ve got NOTHING on nurses. During several of his campaign events, gubenatorial candidate Adam Putnam has already highlighted the fact that the nursing shortage is so awful that it has been the number one job listed on several employment websites for the last seven years. Both of our professions are full of caring, nurturing people who want to help others, yet somehow we are deemed unworthy of a seat at the table to discuss our working conditions and salaries, ostensibly because women constitute the majority of the workforce in these two critically important fields.

This legislation is downright shameful; any legislator who votes for HB25 should be called out and castigated accordingly. HB1, last year’s version of this bill—not to be confused with the current bully voucher bill—didn’t really matter because there was no Senate companion. Conversely, HB25 already has a companion in SB1036, which means it is a legitimate threat to labor organizations that overwhelmingly serve women. If you’d like to help, please call 1-855-235-2469, follow the prompts to enter your zipcode, and the hotline will connect you to your local legislator. Please flood their inboxes and demand that they vote NO on HB25.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Billy Townsend2
Billy Townsend – Polk County School Board Member for District 1

“I want people’s lives to get better. I want to grow the teaching profession. I want kids to enjoy and learn what they’re doing. That’s not happening in this corrupt model and the people who are responsible for it are owed a reckoning.”

Billy Townsend is a maverick, plain and simple. I can think of no other elected official in the Sunshine State with the political courage to take such a stand. It was my honor and pleasure to record a second podcast with him this past weekend. This time, however, we set no time limit and simply had an organic conversation about what is wrong with the system and how we can make education more human and humane once again.

Want to learn more about Billy and his education advocacy? Check out his website at www.billytownsend.com or find him on Facebook or on Twitter.

Thanks again for listening, everyone!

Recruitment Poster
Teacher Recruitment Poster

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope that you, your family and friends all had a wonderful holiday season and winter break away from school. Many school districts throughout Florida returned to school this past week, and here in Hillsborough we’ll resume classes this coming Tuesday. And while I did my best to focus on everything but education during the break, I couldn’t quite escape doing so because of television ads like this…

Be Inspired. Inspire Others. Teach. (60) from CFP Foundation on Vimeo.

Part of the College Football Playoff Foundation’s outreach efforts include the “Extra Yard for Teachers,” an awareness campaign that culminates during the bowl week leading up to the national championship (and has for the last few years). While the mission is noteworthy, it is equally troubling. Never in my life could I have imagined a point at which we would have a teacher shortage in the United States. And yet here we are, watching these commercials on TV.

Our elected officials of all levels–national, state, and local–have known about this phenomenon for nearly a decade now, and you know it’s particularly pernicious and routinely ignored by the powers-that-be when it comes to having advertisements try to encourage people to enter the profession. The truth is teaching is a noble profession, but it is one that no one will want when scorn is continually heaped upon it by those who have no idea what it means to educate a child, or when a career choice routinely pays 20% less than other college educated peers, or when professional autonomy and creativity is largely sacrificed for the sake of the one-size-fits-all standardized testing model that was enshrined in horrible policy such as NCLB, RTTP, or ESSA and later cemented into place by the educational industrial complex headed by Pearson.

All of this, of course, is backed by stats that can easily be found with a quick Google search, the most problematic of which shows a decline in college-bound students enrolling in education as a major. In the last decade alone this number has declined by 40% and will probably continue to grow worse, especially here in the Sunshine State where the legislature seems hell bent on never properly funding public education.

The teacher shortage is a national issue, but Florida will have an even more difficult time filling empty classrooms with qualified teachers. As a current report notes, Florida ranks 40th in average teacher salary yet is 26th in cost of living. This disconnect means not only are teachers making far less than their college educated peers, their earnings are not commensurate with the cost of living, thereby creating a more difficult economic environment for those working to ensure a bright future for all of our state’s students.

And if that weren’t problematic enough, think about how counties will soon begin to cannibalize one another in search of highly qualified teachers. Here in Hillsborough county, for instance, we lag every surrounding county for starting teacher salary by $2-5K. As former HCPS teacher and 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year Megan Allen noted in her recent op-ed, her younger sister didn’t even consider Hillsborough but only looked in nearby Polk. She goes on to illustrate how difficult it will be for Hillsborough–and by extension all of Florida–to recruit and retain high quality teachers to prepare our children for their future.

Ten years ago, I constantly encouraged my students to enter the profession if they expressed an interest. Five years ago, I still encouraged my students to become teachers, but with reservations about which I was completely candid. Today–and I’m ashamed to admit this–I tell former students who want to become teachers to do so but to leave Florida altogether and seek out a place that pays teachers what they are worth and respects them for their contribution to our collective society. There aren’t many places in the U.S that still do.

And I fear that soon enough there won’t be any at all…

contract

Teaching is an incredibly rewarding career, but it’s also an incredibly challenging one. And one daunting challenge stands above them all—time constraints.

Two weeks ago, educators throughout Hillsborough County Public Schools banded together to “work to contract.” As I noted during my reflections on WTC the following weekend, the most salient aspect was just how much time we spend outside of the classroom to prepare ourselves so that we can be the best possible teachers for our kids. While most of us undoubtedly have a vague idea that we spend a great deal of time on our jobs outside the 8-hour workday, I don’t think many of us truly realized exactly how much we go above and beyond until we found ourselves feeling less stressed and enjoying much more free time with our family and friends.

To be completely honest, after working the contract for a week, I don’t ever want to go back to not doing so. But I also realize that is a completely unrealistic expectation to set for myself because there will be times when I absolutely must do things outside of school so that the students can be successful. At my school, for instance, I am both the Theory of Knowledge teacher and the Extended Essay coordinator for our International Baccalaureate program. I essentially have two jobs and due to the timelines my students and I race against, there are certain points at which I get completely backed up; if I didn’t take work home, I wouldn’t be able to give my kids timely feedback and keep us all on track for our mutual deadlines.

Regardless of what level we teach—whether elementary, middle, or high—we all face obstacles to finishing what amounts to an average 60 hour work week in 40 hours. I have done my best to streamline my time and tasks to maximize productivity, but it still cannot all be done at school. Whether planning lessons, grading papers, entering data into gradebooks or other systems, sending emails, making phone calls, communicating with parents or administrators, sponsoring clubs, volunteering after school, and on and on and on, we all work well beyond the contract, which is why we need to start an awareness campaign on social media: #BeyondTheContract

Here in Hillsborough County where contract negotiations have dragged on for six months at this point, education professionals realize we are all at a crucial juncture. Should we continue to work the contract to demonstrate how much we do outside of school at the risk of alienating students, parents, and the community? Or should we simply go back to the way things were and do far too much outside of school to the detriment of our personal lives?

The honest answer is both.

We need to find a middle ground, which is what #BeyondTheContract is all about. We should do our utmost to work to contract and be as productive as possible during our regular school day, but then take home work only when we absolutely must. And when we do, we should log how many hours we spent along with stating the activities we did for the betterment of our students or our personal pedagogical practice. When we do go above and beyond for our kids, let’s inform our communities and keep them in our corner, rallying around us as they have the last several months. Let’s show district administration and our elected officials how much we care about our kids and our profession. If we do this here in Hillsborough, perhaps other educators across the state will join in, and hopefully Florida teachers can initiate a trend that will sweep across the education profession throughout the entire United States.

Please share the concept of #BeyondTheContract with every educator you know, and let’s starting spreading the word on social media!

Here’s the pinned tweet on my Twitter profile:

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And here’s a sample tweet I sent last weekend after reading/commenting on essays and typing up several letters of recommendation for some seniors:

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Tyler Choura
Tyler Choura, Fifth Grade Teacher at Westchase Elementary School in Tampa, FL

Tyler Choura has always wanted to be a teacher. When he graduated from high school, his senior quote in the yearbook said as much. After winning a prestigious award while attending Penn State, a $12,000 pay cut, and six years in the classroom, he is considering leaving his dream job. Check out this week’s podcast to find out why…

Thanks for listening, everyone, have an awesome week!

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#TimeToResign

While I highly doubt School Board Member Valdes will take this second call for her resignation seriously due to her megalomania, I hope you will listen to this very brief (4 minute) podcast as to why she needs to be removed from her District 1 seat.

Please share with others and use #TimeToResign

Oh, and if you’re interested in reading through the recall statute yourself, you can find it by clicking this link: Recall Statute

Thanks again for listening, everyone; have an awesome weekend!

TimeToResign

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Hillsborough County School Board Whistleblower

If nothing else, I am a persistent person. When I get an idea in my head or set a specific goal, I can become doggedly determined until I accomplish what I set out to do.

On July 10th, about two weeks after I started the Teacher Voice project, I emailed Mike Schmoronoff*, the publisher of the Hillsborough County School Board Whistleblower Facebook page and asked if he would be willing to do an interview. He politely declined. Multiple times, in fact. But I kept asking every four or five weeks, and he finally relented provided I could preserve anonymity and he could listen to the podcast prior to it being published on Teacher Voice.

We covered a lot of ground in just under seventeen minutes. Please listen and share with other interested education stakeholders in Hillsborough County and beyond.

Thanks for listening, everyone, and have a wonderful week!

* NB – “Mike Schmoronoff” is a pseudonym used by the WB page, not the person’s actual name. Again, the conditions for me doing the interview called for strict anonymity.

Essays
About 100 TOK Essay rough drafts, averaging 5 pages each.

This past week I joined in solidarity with the vast majority of teachers in Hillsborough County Public Schools who chose to “work to contract.” For all five days we arrived to work at our appointed time and left when our day was over. Like many–if not most–Americans in the workforce, we left our work in the building and went home to spend time with our family and friends.

It may have been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in 14 years as a teacher.

Don’t get me wrong, going home each day and being able to spend time with two of my favorite people ever–my wife and my mother, who was in town for Thanksgiving–was incredible. We talked, we laughed, we ate delicious home-cooked meals, we watched shows together and just generally enjoyed each other’s presence and company.

But it was difficult because I hadn’t truly realized how plugged in I am to school virtually all the time. Whether it’s working on school stuff for my IB students, reading and doing research on education issues, advocating for our profession, representing HCTA, lining up podcast guests, communicating with elected officials, or writing posts for Teacher Voice, I clearly sleep, breathe, and eat education.

And I love it.

I also hate it in another sense, though. On the very first day of WTC I came home, put down my bag, said hello to my mother, and then immediately opened my laptop to send an email I thought about on my drive home. These habits have become so ingrained that I didn’t realize I was breaking my attempt to work to contract until my wife asked me what I was doing. I am glad she said something, because it immediately put me in a different frame of mind. I closed the laptop and walked away.

The rest of the week went well and I managed to keep my promise. I worked only the time I was scheduled. I enjoyed spending time with my colleagues before school when we picketed and walked in together every morning. I also had to prioritize my tasks in order to maximize my productivity. This was particularly difficult for me because when my students or coworkers ask me to help them in any endeavor I drop whatever I’m doing to answer the call. And while I still did this, I could see things starting to pile up.

Take the Theory of Knowledge Essay rough drafts I received on Monday. I wanted to try and read them by the end of the week. I should have realized how nearly impossible that goal was, but it motivated me to read and comment on at least a few while I could. But the more immediate tasks always came first. I had to teach. I had to write letters of recommendation that had imminent deadlines. I had to help get a necessary computer program up and running. I had to_____________.

And if you’re a teacher, too, you know that list of “I had to’s” is probably a mile long.

In the end, I feel like I was able to reclaim more of my personal life. I feel a little more rested, a little more balanced. I will probably try to work to contract as much as I can for the rest of my career, to be honest. But I also know there will be times when I have too much work to be done and have to bring it home.

The vast majority of teachers always do.

Because we know what’s at stake is too important: our kids and our future.