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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.

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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.

 

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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!

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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

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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!