By Greg Sampson
Jacksonville Public Education Fund 1 X 1 Conference
Analysis and Opinion
First, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. When it comes to the curriculum guides, especially the elementary ELA curriculum guides, the superintendent expressed in this forum what he previously said in others. So kwitcherbitchin’ teachers, he has committed to what he is doing and will not change course. (This is my analysis, not my opinion about the issue.)
You are in a Catch 22, elementary teachers. If you follow the curriculum and are successful as defined by test results, he will release you from the curriculum and you can do what you want. But then, if his curriculum made you successful (as defined by test scores), why would you change? As for those of you who are not successful, it is because you are not following the curriculum. Just do it!
To place the emphasis on what needs it, I will put it in all caps. Mia Jones, District 14, Florida House of Representatives, warned us: PUBLIC EDUCATION IS REALLY UNDER ASSAULT.
From a woman who is serving on the legislative committees and has a first look at the new mischief Tallahassee plans: PUBLIC EDUCATION IS REALLY UNDER ASSAULT.
From there, I dismiss the pep rally feel JPEF tried to give the conference. We should not get caught up in such nonsense. There are real achievements to celebrate, but there are real battles to fight.
Take the celebration of the graduation rate. What nobody mentioned was the quotes from politicians leaking into the press that they think we are faking the graduation rate and they will do something about it.
Yes, you read that right. And you have concluded correctly. For those people, they know what they want to believe and will not let the facts get in their way. They have the power and will change the facts to fit their belief. Or pocketbook, depending how deep they are in with the hedge funds and charter school lobbyists.
But I digress.
It was a celebration of achievement. That is expected and should not detract from the opportunity to talk with people I would not otherwise have a chance to meet.
Other than the graduation rates, there was little hard data to support the applause taking place. Sorry, but discipline data is subject to great manipulation and cannot be trusted. I offered my observation that black boys are judged more critically than others when it comes to behavior in the schools, but I don’t think anyone listened. Indeed, I found many persons not knowledgeable about various measures such as ATOSS, which at my table was put forth as an alternative school like a charter. I had to explain it was a place where students suspended could go until their suspension was over.
The biggest criticism I can offer is that JPEF, the conference, Dr. Vitti (and by implication, the District) buys into the idea that the TEST SCORE defines all: good schools, great teachers, and the like. Everything in the end came down to how students scored on the test.
Once you realize that premise is false, the entire house of cards collapses. Goodbye, TNTP, you think a great teacher is someone who produces the highest test scores. Stupid. Your entire existence is based on that flaw.
Goodbye, TFA. Well, your people can’t even produce exceptional test scores because, well, first year teachers wherever they come from, are learning on the job and will take 3 to 5 years to gain effectiveness. But wait, your people leave after two years, and now you have the chutzpah to pay them to be coaches to your neophytes stepping into a classroom for the first time. Don’t believe me? Talk to TNTP (ha, ha!)
Everything is premised on the test. We have a job to do: to educate parents and our community about how bad the test is, how badly it is written, how it does not match the content we are told to teach, and how it is blighting their children’s futures and their souls.
Take away the test and the rest is meaningless as far as what took place at the conference. The focus went away from the stated theme: equity in education for all students.
Having said that, I was glad I went and will go again. We teachers are unhappy about how we are cut out of the discussion, how we are not listened to, and are marginalized. Opportunities like this should not be passed by.
Imagine if, when Dr. Vitti asked for teachers in the room to stand up, instead of 20 there were 200. 200 teachers in place, not pushing an agenda, but interacting with the community and telling their stories, explaining why the tests are destroying education and children, and driving the conversation where it needs to go.
JPEF is not the enemy. It pushes initiatives that we disagree with but it also supports policies that we want. We need to take advantage of these opportunities.