Help Wanted
Want to write a post? Discuss an issue on a podcast?

If you’re reading this right now let me start off by thanking you.

I want to thank you because it means you care about kids, their education, and our entire future here in the Sunshine State.

Teacher Voice started about a month ago to encourage others to get involved and advocate for the next generation and all its promise deserves. Whether you are a teacher, parent, administrator, guidance counselor, school psychologist, social worker, custodian, bus driver, student nutrition specialist, a former public school student, or an elected official at the local or state level–essentially anyone who wants to advocate on behalf of our children, Teacher Voice needs your help. We need to grow this project together, and I would love to hear from any education stakeholders who want to contribute by writing a blog entry or meeting me at a public library (or via phone if you live far away) to record a podcast in which we dive into the issues and have a discussion about how to move education forward in Florida.

But I especially need to hear from teachers…

I genuinely love being a teacher and I know that’s also the case for many, many others. Now more than ever, we need to stand together and add our voices to the conversation. We are the professionals with experience in the classroom, and we have wisdom to share with those who shape our policies and decide the fate of our funding. There are roughly 190,000 K-12 educators in our state, and if we include professors at our colleges and universities it easily eclipses 200,000. Surely we have something to say and make a sizeable contribution to the dialogue that only seems to be happening among legislators.

So how can you help? Though this is just a short list, any of us can do one or more of the following: become highly informed by reading about education issues affecting us all in Florida; develop relationships with your elected officials, both at the local and state levels, and share your ideas with them often; attend local school board meetings to speak or simply oversee the policies being implemented in your district; seek out and discuss the issues with fellow education advocates; be exemplars of humility and life-long learning, something all students should see and emulate on a daily basis; last yet certainly not least, write a 500 word blog post for Teacher Voice or join me for a podcast, even if you just want to brag about your kids and the awesome things they’re doing in your classroom or out in the community.

With the advent of HB7069, education has clearly been at the forefront of many peoples’ minds throughout Florida. It’s not often that our collective attention is so acutely focused on what’s happening happening to this vital public good, and hopefully this project and many others will help sustain this focus so that we can do what’s best for our kids and our future.

P.S. – As always, please continue to share this website and/or Facebook page with your family and friends. I believe we can accomplish amazing things if we all stand together. And, of course, if you’d like to write or meet up to chat, please email me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com. Thanks!

Senator Simmons
Senator David Simmons – R: a pragmatic voice of reason in the Florida Legislature

Happy Friday, everyone! Thanks for stopping by to check out the latest edition of the Friday Five. Please listen and share with any and all concerned education stakeholders you know.

Today’s topic: For-Profit Charter Schools Bilking Taxpayers

And if you ever listen to this podcast, Senator Simmons, thank you for your efforts this past spring to rein in the for-profit charters. Your work has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated! I would love to have you on the podcast to discuss these important issues facing our citizens/taxpayers/education advocates.

140618_money_gen_7
This is roughly what most states spend on education. Here in Florida, it’s a lot less.

If you’ve ever wondered why we have so many financial problems here in Hillsborough County Public Schools and the majority of school districts across the state of Florida, look no further than Tallahassee.

Though it has been dropping a bit in recent years, the national average of per pupil spending across the United States is roughly $10,700. Here in Florida? $7,221, which is barely more than $100 per pupil from a decade ago.

Florida Ed Spending Last Decade

Even Governor Scott, the same man who slashed education funding by over 1 billion during his first year in office, wanted to increase per pupil spending by more than $200 in his recommended budget. He didn’t get his way, obviously.

But what’s truly mysterious, however, is that Speaker Corcoran, the mastermind of HB7069, touted this nominal spending increase on Twitter as if it were a godsend to children all across the Sunshine State.

It’s not.

The truth of the matter is most districts such as ours here in Hillsborough were actually looking at a net decrease in funding based on the education budget that was initially proposed. While the House continually claims this as a victory for education, the additional $100 allotted per pupil through FEFP actually is only a net $43 increase in our school district, and probably similar elsewhere.

What politicians like Speaker Corcoran, Representatives Diaz, Bileca, et al constantly forget to mention when they are extolling their supposed virtuous economic benevolence is that over the last decade costs have continued to rise. It may be true that inflation hasn’t been strong since emerging from the Great Recession, but when you use the federal government’s inflation calculator the $7,126 figure from 2007-2008 would need to be $8,358 in today’s dollars, meaning the purchasing power of our current funding from the capitol is over $1,000 LESS than what it was a decade ago.

It may be a threadbare cliché at this point, but nothing more aptly describes what the Florida Legislature has continually done in my 14 years as a teacher: squeeze blood from a stone.

But, wait, there’s more!

As if that’s not bad enough, our state-level elected officials in their infinite wisdom have continued to further financially hamstring our education system by both restricting the ability of local agencies to levy their own millage rates AND continually kicking the can down to the local level where governing bodies have little to no power to raise additional revenue. This chart from an article by Emma Brown of the Washington Post demonstrates the combined effects of these decisions by the Florida Legislature:

Numbers
Read it and weep, people. Between state and local funding, Florida is the worst in the nation at funding education since the advent of the Great Recession.

So what’s the answer to the $8,358 question? We all need to take a stand. We need to be very vocal in demanding our state legislators finally fund education properly. No more gimmicks and games.

Time to invest in our kids and our future.

SB Pic
Hillsborough County Public School Board Members and Superintendent Jeff Eakins

For those of you who are local to the Tampa area and following the issues in my home county/school district of Hillsborough, you may be aware of me discussing the issues affecting education at the school board meetings. Today’s meeting will be no exception, and I hope to receive the full five minutes of speaking time for which I registered. In the event that I do not receive this time, I recorded my comments for those of you who would like to listen to them.

If you prefer to read what I wrote rather than listen, I’ve also pasted the comments below (they are longer than 500 words, however):

On the afternoon of Monday, February 29th 2016, Mrs. Griffin encouraged about two dozen new teacher mentors to speak truth to power in dark times, which is why I am here today.

As we began the most recent round of bargaining three weeks ago, Chief Negotiator Mark West’s opening statement included a two word phrase that I have been turning over in my mind since that day—good faith.

To have faith is to place a deep and abiding trust in another. Parents have faith in our district’s employees as they entrust the tutelage, well-being, and safety of their children to all employees who directly interact with them on a daily basis during the school year, for instance. We employees in turn have placed our faith in the highest echelon of district administration and the publicly elected officials who sit before us all today.

Since January of 2015, however, our faith has been waning, and there are a litany of reasons. For example, the union negotiated the new salary schedule in “good faith” at the end of 2014 and the vast majority of teachers converted to this pay scale on the oft-repeated promise by Deputy Superintendent Dan Valdez and others that the new pay plan was—and, as an aside, still is—sustainable. The new pay scale offered simplicity and transparency: rather than vague “steps,” it was years of service. Time served was time earned, or at least it should be.

We also had good faith in district leadership last year when we negotiated a specific Performance Pay allocation of $12.4 million to supplement the salaries of instructional personnel who earned a highly effective rating, only to have that faith further eroded by the discovery of duplicitous decision-making that paid 192 administrators nearly $300,000 of the fund, as well as removing over $1.5 million to pay for fringe benefits, something that the district has never done and has always been the responsibility of the employer. While we completely comprehend the district’s purported fiscal constraints, to effectively rob money from the district’s hardest working teachers to pay its bills due to a proper lack of planning and foresight is both outrageous and shameful.

But perhaps most outrageous and shameful of all is the incessant application of double standards from the dais. 26,000 employees cannot constantly be told that there is no money to pay for what is contractually owed when there are clearly enough funds to pay lawyers’ fees that total over two million dollars in the last year, spend nearly one million dollars on the Gibson report, build new school board offices, renovate the ISC to relocate the entire HR department, spend over one third of a million dollars to upgrade the board room, give twenty thousand dollar raises to area superintendents and effectively have two people paid to do the same job, hire over five dozen district-level administrators all earning over one hundred thousand dollars, attend lavish retreats that cost tens of thousands of dollars each, continue to spend exorbitant amounts on travel, pay a public relations firm tens of thousands of dollars because we cannot keep a communications director – all at the expense of the taxpayers’ dollars and employees’ morale.

And perhaps the most egregious form of double standard came only three weeks ago when teachers who came to stand before the dais and courageously share their concerns via their constitutionally guaranteed First Amendment rights were chided like children for cheering, yet a similar rebuke never came when for-profit charter school operators were allowed to applaud their contract approval. We were met with dismissiveness bordering on disdain, and when some of you deigned to make eye contact with the speaker at the podium, those teachers were met with grimaces. And all the while everyone was all smiles for the charters who continue to raid our precious coffers.

It makes zero sense to bemoan the vast proliferation of for-profit charters that has exploded exponentially under the current administration only to greet them with open arms and a smile every time another contract is ratified.

There is still hope, however. If I have been accused of anything for which I am proud it is being relentlessly optimistic. I am an idealist with a pragmatic bent, and I have a solution that would go a long way in restoring the faith that has been eroding over the last two and a half years. First and foremost would be to return to the bargaining table next Monday ready to agree to the terms outlined by our executive director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins at yesterday’s bargaining meeting; they are fair and affordable, as all of you who have had one on one conversations with her know. Next would be to return the over $1.8 million that rightfully belongs to the Highly Effective teachers who earned it last year. Last yet equally important would for all of you to be the exemplars of servant leadership you were elected and hired to be.

With the advent of HB7069, now more than ever we need to all stand together against Tallahassee. Though money may be tight, I would also suggest we join the lawsuit with Broward and St. Lucie counties. We can no longer afford to have these rifts between district leaders and employees; we need to be working harmoniously in good faith so that we are truly preparing our students for life. We all know what’s at stake—our children and our future. Thank you.

 

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

IMG_1229

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!