Knowledge Illusion Cover
Think you “know” things? Think again.

Socrates once famously quipped, “I know nothing.” It is for this self-effacing statement that the Oracle at Delphi pronounced him the wisest person in all of Athens.

And the older I get, the more I comprehend why he said such things.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I am a huge nerd and a voracious reader. While I don’t foresee myself writing book reviews of everything I read, I will occasionally pass along something that I think could benefit everyone. The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach is one of those books.

My current teaching assignment, Theory of Knowledge, is the capstone course for the International Baccalaureate program, and I LOVE teaching the class. It is primarily driven by reflection and dialogue, and I get to work with bright and inquisitive young minds who share a love of learning. Though the curriculum delves into various Areas of Knowledge (e.g. Natural Sciences, Mathematics, History, Ethics, etc) and how they interact with Ways of Knowing (e.g. Sense Perception, Reason, Language, Emotion, etc), it is essentially a high-level critical thinking course that examines the nature of knowledge, what knowledge is as a human construct, and how knowledge has changed over time. Perhaps most importantly, it tasks the learner with a central question around which the entire course revolves: how do you know?

This excellent little book, then, is effectively a primer on the subject matter dealt with in a course such as Theory of Knowledge. In the opening pages, the authors ask a simple question: how does a toilet work? They use this as an example of how the vast majority of what we think we know actually exists outside of our own heads and that, ultimately, knowledge is communal in nature (hence the subtitle). Much of the rest of the book details how our brains were never really designed to “know” much, and how that false sense of “knowing”–mostly predicated on an outmoded view of the brain that essentially sees it as a hard drive that stores information and carries out instructions–gets us into all sorts of trouble in our daily lives.

But why read it? Because it gives both pause and perspective. We unfortunately live in a highly polarized political climate, and if we all take a deep breath and realize that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do, perhaps we can have honest conversations with one another. Perhaps we can ask better questions rather than simply make assertions based on scant evidence. Perhaps we’ll be actually willing to listen to the other person’s positions. Perhaps we’ll actually have opinions that can be augmented (GASP!) when new information is presented. Perhaps we’ll have less hubris and more humility, something that all our pundits and politicians could certainly use.

I’ll be 42 soon. I don’t plan on imbibing hemlock at any point in the foreseeable future. But with each passing day I understand Socrates’ pithy statement more and more…

Hawking Quote

P.S. – You can read a more in-depth review here or you can purchase the book here.

 

 

 

VAM Formula
The VAM Formula

If you’re a teacher in Florida, you know all about VAM. Back in 2009, teacher accountability became all the rage, and by the legislative session in the spring of 2010 members of both the House and Senate were putting forth various bills to measure teacher effectiveness. SB6 sponsored by Senator John Thrasher was the first to emerge fully formed, and it was the first that I am aware of to propose the use of VAM, or the “Value Added Model.”

I am a teacher, not a widget. I don’t come off an assembly line, and neither do my students or their learning gains. We are human beings, so I immediately took umbrage with a term we often associate with products we buy, sell, and consume. I was so upset, in fact, that I wrote a letter to the editor of the now defunct Tampa Tribune, and it was featured on the front page of the Opinion section that Sunday. If you’d like to read it, click here, as the words I wrote are still relevant today.

Even though HB7069 is a train wreck…er, train bill, one of the *VERY FEW* good pieces of the legislation is that school districts can now opt out of using VAM as part of the teacher evaluation process. Though it unfortunately takes the Florida Legislature years to realize they’ve implemented bad policy, I’ll give them credit for finally acknowledging it, even if they only did so tacitly by burying something like this in a giant bill.

If you read the post on Facebook that took you to Jeff Solochek’s piece about VAM being eliminated in Citrus County, you know that one of the School Board members, Thomas Kennedy, advocated for its removal (thank you, sir!). Perhaps most importantly, Solochek notes that “other districts are also preparing similar moves.” I sure hope that means here in Hillsborough County Public Schools.

I’ve always thought VAM was suspect for lots of reasons, the least of which was the dismissive way teachers in our district were told by top brass that “you’d need a PhD in Mathematics to understand it.” Nothing like opaque and vague formulas to determine your worth as a teacher, I guess.

The truth is, I never liked VAM for one simple reason that every teacher will agree upon: teaching is more art than science. It’s more how you connect with kids and the relationships you build with them, not how well they do on a standardized test. When you add in the fact that VAM is inequitable in its application (is it fair to judge a P.E. Coach by the school’s overall reading scores?) and that many kids pencil-whip tests because they know the curves are so ridiculously generous, what does that number really even mean?

Nothing.

VAM has never been anything but a charade that has caused consternation for teachers everywhere throughout the state of Florida. Let’s lobby our individual districts to get rid of this mathematical chicanery for good.

VAM Formula Fixed
Here’s how the VAM formula should really read

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Check out the latest episode of the Friday Five!

Today’s topic: HB7069 and The Best and Brightest Scholarship

Thanks for listening, everyone. Feel free to comment here on the page, on Facebook or on Twitter. And don’t forget! I’m always looking for suggestions for things to discuss or, even better, you can join me for a full discussion on the Teacher Voice podcast.

Have an awesome weekend!

 

Water-Drop

While there are lots of issues cropping up across the state of Florida when it comes to education, the biggest by far is the lack of funding. Current per-pupil spending here in the Sunshine State hovers around $7200 and is less than a decade ago even though the economy has rebounded substantially since the Great Recession.

And we are way behind the national average of $10,600 per pupil, which is downright shameful considering we’re now the third biggest state in the U.S. in terms of population. You’d think our legislators in Tallahassee would realize that properly funding education means luring more investment into the state, because if you want business leaders to flock here we’d better have a high quality public education system to teach the next generation of Floridians.

But if you live anywhere in the Tampa Bay area (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, etc) and are tuning in to what’s happening, you’re also aware of the “financial woes” facing Hillsborough County Public Schools. Our top administrators and elected officials are coming to grips with a significant budget crisis that includes one billion dollars in debt, one billion dollars in deferred/needed maintenance, and another billion dollars of new schools that will need to be built to handle the exponential growth taking place in southern and eastern parts of the county.

This past Tuesday, the School Board held a public budget workshop to discuss ideas about how to combat this challenge, and one in particular stuck out. Susan Valdes, who has been a school board member since 2004–and you could argue bears much responsibility for our current mess because she has clearly passed budgets that were reckless in their spending–openly floated the idea of freezing everyone’s salary.

Clearly Mrs. Valdes doesn’t understand basic economics…

Hillsborough County Public Schools is the largest employer in the Tampa Bay area. There are over 15,000 teachers, and 26,000 employees in total. All of these employees spend most of their hard earned money locally, and anyone who has lived in Tampa in the last 5 years knows the area is experiencing robust growth. If the school board and administration freeze salaries, this will create a ripple effect that will negatively impact the local economy and make the downward spiral that much worse.

Perhaps more devastating, this decision could force good teachers to leave the profession altogether, which we continually see across the state because jobs are plentiful. The unemployment rate in Florida sits at 4.5%; here in Tampa Bay it’s actually 3.7%(!). This means there are jobs out there, and if veteran teachers can’t make ends meet they’ll go do something else. Even if there weren’t a hiring freeze, HR staff in any organization will also tell you that hiring and training new employees is more expensive than retaining older ones.

Should the school board even be considering this as an option? It will probably do a lot more harm than good, especially if those in charge continue to spend money frivolously while asking the primary workforce to make the sacrifice that will hurt our local economy in the long run.

P.S. – If you’d like to hear more on this topic and why freezing salaries is a huge mistake, don’t forget to check out the latest episode of the podcast located on the right-hand side of the main sidebar. The “Friday Five” will be posted each week and will feature me (and hopefully others in the future) sounding off about a timely issue concerning education either locally or elsewhere in the state.

Megaphone
Teacher Voice Needs Your Help!

If you are reading this, there’s a good chance you are an advocate for high-quality public education. I’m looking for anyone who wants to address the challenges facing education here in Florida. There are many of them, and they all seem to start in Tallahassee.

Over the last 19 years I’ve lived here and the last 14 I’ve taught in Hillsborough County Public Schools, I’ve been a mute witness to the constant assault that has been waged against public education by legislators in the capitol. While many of these elected officials have good intentions, the motives of the few who are driving the legislation that affects hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students is questionable to say the least.

If you are a teacher, administrator, parent, proud former student of the public education system here in this state, or any other stakeholder who has a vested interest in seeing all children in Florida receive a great education, please follow the blog or like the Facebook page to keep up with this project.

But I also need others to write and join me for a podcast. Though I try to be as non-partisan as possible when it comes to discussing these issues (as the previous post pointed out), my passion can get the better of me at times. By having others who are willing to write posts of up to 500 words, I hope that this project will become incredibly diverse and highly collaborative.

Does this sound like you? If so, please contact me. I can be reached via the Facebook page or you can find me on Twitter @1TeacherVoice, or you can send me an old-fashioned email at 1teachervoice@gmail.com

Looking forward to our future collaboration!

Ryan

P.S. – Feel free to pitch ideas for posts about any topic related to education–even something as simple as cool projects you’ve done or will do in your classroom with the kids!

 

Politicization

I’m starting to think I’m a dying breed: a centrist. As best I can, I try to understand multiple perspectives and realize that the truth is far more complex than I can imagine and must exist somewhere in the middle between extremes that we’re given in the 21st century. There are lots of reasons for why political discourse has become so entrenched in particular worldviews and many people have stopped thinking for themselves and are comfortable simply parroting whatever they are told, but I’m not here to talk about those reasons.

What I am here to talk about today is the side effects of politicization, specifically the politicization of education over the last three decades or so. Here in Florida, it seems as if it is endless war waged between two sides. But my guess is that it’s happening in other states as well. And in the midst of this war of words between competing ideologies the only real collateral damage is what matters most: our kids and our future.

I read a great op-ed the other day entitled “I’m O.K. – You’re Pure Evil” that gets to the heart of this problem. We’re so unwilling to sit down and simply talk to one another that we cannot solve the challenges we face together. What’s worse is that many (if not most) of these issues only seem intractable but in reality are not. This unnecessary politicization of a precious public good–education–has only brought acrimony to both sides, but in our own way both sides probably want what’s best for our kids and our future.

How can we reconcile this issue? I believe it begins with something as simple as this acknowledgement: education has become highly and unnecessarily politicized. Let’s all take a step back and realize that we all want what’s best for children so they can grow up to be thoughtful, caring, and engaged citizens who will help their families, friends, and neighbors prosper.

Brinksmanship is no way to go about crafting educational policy or budgets, yet this is where we are in 2017 in the state of Florida. It has created a number of challenges, but I believe any and all of them can be solved if we’re all willing to sit down at a table and discuss our perspectives in a respectful manner. We might not all agree, but talking to one another is a great place to start.

My name is Ryan Haczynski and I am a veteran public school teacher working in Tampa, Florida. In my 19 years of living here–and teaching for the last 14 of them–I’ve seen a great deal of change to the public education system here in our state, some of it good, a lot of it not so much. My goal for this blog and associated podcast is to write and talk about the issues with education stakeholders of all kinds: teachers, parents, local and state legislators…anyone who has something to contribute. I am firm believer in the power of dialogue to foster change, which is why I need your help.

If you are reading this, my guess is that you’re interested in education. Like me, you areĀ  passionate about the issues and pay attention to what is happening locally and across the Sunshine State. Ideally, I want this blog and podcast to be a diverse and collaborative project that will feature guest writers as well as people who want to sit down and talk about important challenges currently facing education.

 

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Got an idea you’d like to discuss? Contact me!

Are you interested? If so, stay tuned. I have a lot of ideas and am still putting together other social media outlets to help spread the word and build an audience. If you have suggestions, please contact me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com or through one of the various social media connections.

Thanks!

-Ryan