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…