In Flanders Fields

A poem written about 100 years ago in memory of the carnage of World War 1 by John McCrae. It is said that he scribbled his words on a paper and, not thinking much of it, discarded them. Others rescued the poignant work whose sentiment haunts us today.

Source: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47380/in-flanders-fields

It is Memorial Day weekend, when we take a holiday on Monday to remember those who sacrificed their lives in battle to preserve the freedom of our nation and ourselves.

Yet, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) hears these words afresh from those who grieve in Uvalde, Texas. Brave children singing who cannot be heard amid the guns below.

They are the dead.

Short days ago, they lived, they played, they loved and were loved.

Now they lie, their lives taken and their families shattered.

They will not sleep though bluebells grow in Texas.

Let us not break faith.

Let this be the moment of reckoning for those who love their guns more than children, who will not consider for a moment what every other nation on Earth has done.

Let’s grasp the torch and hold it high for the 19 children of Uvalde. We owe them that.

Uvalde

The Gospels record that Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” The tragedy in Uvalde that took place yesterday (May 24) was NOT what he had in mind.

Jesus also told us that we could not serve two masters, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Mammon came into usage from the Gospels and was thought to mean money or wealth, perhaps borrowed from a Syrian god of riches. In the early age of Christianity, it came to be a personification of a demon representing greed, a greed that enslaves.

So it is fitting in the aftermath of the latest school tragedy that we bring the question to the forefront: America, you cannot serve both God and Mammon. You cannot serve both God and Guns. Your greed for one shuts out the other. Which will it be?

Already, politicians who have obstructed gun reform in any way have rushed to make it clear what god they worship. They promise to sabotage any effort for gun regulation to move forward in Congress or state legislatures. Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, among others, trotted out the idea that teachers should be armed.

But the police, engaging with the killer at the schoolhouse door, armed, equipped with protection like Kevlar vests, and trained in both the use of firearms and these types of situations, could not stop the killer from getting inside. If they could not stop him, why would anyone think that teachers could do it?!

Let’s arm all the adults: teachers, administrators, custodians, secretaries and paraprofessionals, cafeteria and maintenance workers, and in high school, let’s arm the Jr. ROTC because they are learning how to function as military officers. Then, if someone enters a school with high-powered weapons determined to murder as many innocent children as possible, let everyone draw their weapon and blaze away! That hail of bullets will cut down anybody and increase the body count into the hundreds!

Politicians like Ken Paxton are not serious and we should stop listening to them.

Hardening the architecture may be helpful, but America’s schools are old. They were not designed for this. According to one news story, the killer got into one classroom and then used a connecting door to get to the one where the children and teachers were. Hard corners have limited usefulness. In Grumpy Old Teacher’s classroom, it can only accommodate about a dozen teenagers and that’s if they’re packed in like New Yorkers on the subway during rush hour.

Some doors have windows that fill half the space–easy for a killer to knock out and enter the room. Some schools have doors that cannot be unlocked; others do not. In one report, the gunman entered the classroom through a door and locked it from the inside.

We could build new schools as fortresses, but is that what we want for a positive learning environment?

Those who will blame a lack of hardening are not serious and we should not listen to them.

They will offer their thoughts and prayers. They are not serious. GOT has lots of thoughts and you’re reading some of them, but he will not offer prayers. God is not waiting to hear from GOT to be in the midst of the grieving families to cry with them and bring solace.

How do we reach out with human comfort to the families? We must follow their lead. They will show us. Right now, they don’t want our thoughts and prayers. They want their children back.

They need their time and their space. Instead of thoughts and prayers, too often a performative public act without meaning, we should give them action. We owe them that.

We should and must:

  • Speak out on the need for reasonable gun regulations
  • Support and defend the people and organizations who have worked on this for many years, people like David Hogg
  • Contribute our resources to further this end
  • Call the offices of our representatives and senators, flood the phone lines at their local, regional, state, and national offices to demand action
  • Vote out the ones who will not listen or respond.

The Long and Winding Road

If we’re going to think about testing, we need to start with a song. Music is the proverbial spoonful of sugar that makes the acrid taste of what we do to children … oh wait, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is supposed to hold to the quote … medicine go down.

A pool of tears accurately describes too many students facing too many tests.

It begins in January with the WIDA, a no-stakes test that English Language Learner students undergo so that schools can monitor how well they are progressing in their ability to understand academic tasks and adequately perform them.

GOT will not say it ends in May, because this road never ends, but the most intense period comes at the end of the school year when children must undergo hours and days of testing.

In Florida, there are three seasons to the school year: August – December, instruction; January – March, test preparation; April & May, testing. Districts conduct testing in December to ascertain how well students will perform in May. For a teacher, that means their Winter Break is spent coming up with answers for administrators under heavy district pressure that explain how the lowest-performing standards will be remediated.

For GOT, that was a ridiculous and easy issue to deal with. The lowest-performing standards were the ones he hadn’t reached yet in the curriculum. His plan? “I will continue to teach the curriculum as the district laid it out.”

But this year, GOT is the test coordinator for the school. It’s a full-time job as he must plan, organize, and oversee every district, state, SAT, PSAT, and AP test that is given. For context, GOT works in an academic magnet in which students will take 8 to 10 AP tests over the course of four years unless they are in the International Baccalaureate program, which is a special kind of crazy when it comes to testing.

2,371 AP tests to order, track, and give. For the state, 650 reading and writing tests, 232 Geometry end-of-course exams, 150 Biology end-of-course exams, 128 US History end-of-course exams (could be more, but that’s a story GOT cannot tell), and many Algebra 1 retake exams because passing that test is a requirement for graduation and GOT’s school must give it even though students must have taken Algebra 1 in middle school to be admitted.

The Long and Winding Road. It’s been an intense three weeks and it’s not over yet. GOT will be writing many pieces over the next few weeks as he processes and shares what it has been like. But for starters, here’s what he has been sharing with his Facebook friends, direct quotes without commentary.

April 29: I have all the pieces in place for Monday (I think.) Let the wacky, wild, whirlwind of testing begin!

April 29: Also, mild wrist sprain heaving boxes around looking for the ones that have Monday’s exams. Put a brace on it. May the morning be better.

May 2: All in all, the first day of the wild, wacky, whirlwind of testing ran well. Nothing anyone can do about student laptops that suddenly kick a kid out of the state test (which must be completed that day) to do updates even though the kid pulled every update possible last week. You would think that district IT would suspend the updates once the state testing window opens, wouldn’t you? Think again. DUUUUUUUUUUUUVAAAAALLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!

May 3: Very tired tonight. That’s what a 14 hour day (begun at 2:45 AM) will do to a person. I knew it was time to pack it in when I began panicking over needing 305 tests for tomorrow and only had 283. Checked my order–only 283. How could I be so stupid?! Oh wait, 305 is Friday’s number. I really only need 283. State testing went okay, we got them all finished–well, those who showed up. What is it about the class of 2025 that they only test one day for a two day test? There was more, but I’ll stop here.

May 4: Only clocked near 13 hours today keeping the mill churning. Counting the materials I prepped tonight for tomorrow, we’ve already gone through more than half the answer sheets. Not looking forward to tomorrow and the sub rodeo we’ll go through. The minor panic came wouldn’t I couldn’t find the labels for AP Stats afternoon exam. Looked all over the office and storage. Finally realized most of the kids are in the morning macro. When I cross-checked the lists, yep, that’s where the labels are. Finally, a huge thank-you to my fabulous colleague and friend, [redacted], who saw my post on Twitter and brought me lunch today. It was delicious! I only ate half, so I have lunch for tomorrow as well.

May 4: I’m taking this as a sign from the universe that tomorrow will run on schedule with no derailments. Wordle 319 2/6

May 5 comment on the preceding: The universe struck back. The main east-west CSX line was under repairs today (no trains). I know because they blocked the crossing at Ellis Road. Therefore, some <cough, cough> considerate Jacksonville driver decided to run into a large truck on the Edgewood crossing effectively blocking traffic just as if CSX had parked a train. No train problem, but a headache as parents were stuck and couldn’t get their kids to school in time. One of our buses didn’t show up till 10 AM. Now that we’re on Wordle 320, I can reveal that the word was ‘train.’

May 6: Got out at 8 PM. Custodians are like, ‘you’re still here? We didn’t realize.’ Yes, when there are 300 US History exams and almost 100 European History exams to pack on top of everything else, it’s a long day. Thanks, AP, for insisting that the first week ship immediately and then scheduling two of the largest exams on the Friday. Then implying that it all must go out today! Then grudgingly say Monday will do. But that might not happen, either. Big day Monday as we have to do FSA [Florida Standards Assessment] reading–650 kids testing at the same time. And did the district shut off the computer updates because the FSA window opened? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, why do you ask when you know the answer? DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUVAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!

May 7 (Saturday): Tired, exhausted, and spent. But I really need to open that backpack …

May 10: Just when I was thinking if I ever turned Moslem, I could handle Ramadan, another fabulous co-worker to the rescue, the incomparable [redacted]. She brought me a salad and carrot cake and said, “I know you’re not eating.” I had to admit she was right. The day is so busy, the hours slide along, and as long as I drink enough water, I must be running on adrenaline and coffee.

May 11: Coming down to the wire. One big AP test left–World History with 200+ students in the gym. Everyone tells me what a great job I’m doing. I think they’re afraid I’ll quit after all this. [Redacted] to the rescue again re: lunch. Lastly, it’s not over. We’re going into overtime. Athletic events, wrecks, etc. plus at least 10 have asked for late testing because of Covid (oh, yeah, that’s not over) … Lots of testing for next week. And then, exceptions testing after that.

May 12: The plan’s bones were tested today. But we didn’t break although working out sub coverage with the principal’s secretary, medical situations, needing to maintain the right number of proctors (we did) in the room, fixing a mistake I made … I work with great people. Everyone take a bow. 👏👏👏

May 13: And we come to the end … NOT. Testing is endless as any teacher could tell you. AP late testing next week and lots of proctors are still needed. All it takes is one student for one test and someone has to give it. Finally finished packing week one. Hope to get it off Monday. Sprained my right hand. Being test coordinator is hazardous to my health.

May 13: You know it’s bad when I see [redacted] post about the play tonight and I think, “Oh, good. That means I can work until 9:30 or so tonight.” It’s hard to work too far ahead because things are fluid right up to the moment, which means I have lots of work to do this weekend. Also need to do grades and attendance for the TAs.

May 13: Things got a bit ragged by Thursday. I really felt bad about a few things. Paxon folks are very forgiving. Hopefully, I can keep the train on the track next week. But I’ll likely be shipping late. Wonder how forgiving AP will be?

May 14: Senior grades posted. Attendance up to date–sort of. Afraid to check email just yet.

May 14: As I reflect on the last two weeks, I realize 2/3 of the AP testing took place in the first week. That’s packed and ready to go. Monday, my priority is to pack the second week and get everything to the UPS store. Fortunately, there’s no AP testing Monday. I hope no one tries to get in my way. Further reflections, what I have had to do under the constraints that I work … it’s not sustainable. Yes, that’s the snake’s tail rattling that you hear.

May 15: Down two proctors for Tuesday, but I think I’ve found the way.

May 15: I see the big picture. This is going to work. But what about the kid who has three FSA two-day make-ups? Stop stressing [GOT], he’s not going to show up for whatever test you schedule him for.

May 15: Built the FSA test rosters for Monday. Now to print them and then begin the mass emails to students and parents to let them know.

May 16: AP is out the door and sitting at the UPS store to transit to wherever it goes. Now that I know the routine, I was able to get an entire week done in about 4 and a half hours. FSA make up was a bit raggedy getting kids to the right place. I simply did not have the time I needed. I have an idea how to organize tomorrow. Left work at 4:23 to come home, relax, and put the structure in place. But then I-10 was shut down and I found myself in a traffic nightmare.

May 17: Late testing underway. Very tired, up at 2 AM to prepare FSA for today. Afternoon AP cancelled because the athletes had a game to play. Coach wanted to know if they could take their Tuesday exams on Thursday. No, it doesn’t work that way. If you miss it, you miss it. And this is late testing. I said I would call AP and ask about exceptions testing, but their phone system is down.

May 17: Some countdown the days to the end. For a test coordinator, these last few weeks are the sands running through the glass. So many to get tested, so few days to do it in.

May 18: When I realized we had hit 95% participation on state tests, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. That pressure is off. The morning was a flurry of locating kids and pushing them into testing rooms. That’s how it goes as we near the end of a testing window. AP late testing working well; almost all kids are showing up because they asked for it. Everyone tells me I’m doing a great job. I respond that I think people say that only to keep me from quitting (it’s a joke.) Several are noting the time stamps on my daily emails.

May 18: But the day doesn’t end as I monitor an exceptions request. Memo for next year: the students don’t understand how the AP system works. If they miss an exam, no, it doesn’t go on a shelf for a day and time when it pleases them to show. An AP exam is for a particular day and time, if it isn’t used, it gets shipped back. For another day, a new exam must be ordered.

May 18: Last testing post for the night–my name is Sisyphus. Every time I push this testing ball to the top of the hill, it rolls down to the bottom. One more problem for Friday to solve tomorrow.

May 19: This week (I think) has been the worst, but I fixed my Friday problem. Tomorrow is the FSA free-for-all where we run a dragnet through the building looking for any student who still needs to do a test. Then, why oh why, AP, did you schedule the late history testing for Friday afternoon? Do you realize how hard it is to find proctors when everyone’s burning rubber out of the parking lot for the weekend? On the other hand, no more 4 AM emails that everyone remarks upon (what they don’t know is the two hours beforehand that prepped for that email with information for the day.)

May 19: Peanuts and Brussel Sprouts for dinner. Am I pregnant or a weary test coordinator looking through the freezer and cupboard?

May 19: Had an AP [Assistant Principal] ask about my sleep today. I assured her that I was getting my hours in because I arrive home so tired I’m in bed by 7 or thereabouts. (Don’t look at your watch, dammit!)

May 19: Forwarded a preliminary list of unused and late exam fees to the office for student debt lists. Oh, it’s started. But I’m only the reporter. I don’t have the power to forgive.

May 20: Late testing is over. Was in the building until after six tonight. Last test finished 5:37, and then I had to pack everything so I don’t have that chore Monday. FSA make-up list down to about 20 tests. Still more to do next week, but I’ll begin blogging about the ‘long and winding road’ of testing soon to reflect on the experience.

May 20 (posted about 7:30 PM): Time for lunch.

This is a long piece because it includes all the Facebook posts. GOT offers it in a stream-of-consciousness motif. If you made it this far, you might have an insight into the testing crazy inflicted on public schools.

Teacher Appreciation Week 2022-Style

Not Love, Florida Style, because when it comes to teachers, no one’s buying it.

It has snuck up on us once again. It’s time for the annual Teacher Appreciation Week, five days of … in Florida, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has no idea because the governor and his henchpersons have made it very clear how little they appreciate teachers.

Nevertheless, there are a few ways that districts, including GOT’s, could show some love.

  • Let me buy an extension cord and maybe a power strip to go with it. Seriously, teachers receive $325 a year to buy things for their classrooms. The only condition is that the purchase must benefit students somehow. Hmmmm, we’ve given every student a laptop computer and bought computer programs for all types of learning. We’ve transformed our classrooms into digital laboratories. And every day, at least half of every class shows up with the same request: the laptop is not charged, the battery is dead, and they need to plug in.

What would benefit students more than a teacher having extension cords and power strips strategically placed throughout the classroom for power-starved laptops to connect to? They need the juice, not teachers.

But no, that’s against the rules.

  • Replace the third evaluation metric with a scavenger hunt. 50% a dodgy calculation of data growth by students based on dubious tests, 40% a principal’s ability to hit a 22 point checklist, based on a published theory now repudiated by its creator, in 30 minutes, and 10% on how well teachers have preserved their ability to BS through a bluebook essay in college. Oops, just kidding, that’s the IPDP, once known as the ippy-dippy, but formally is the Individual Professional Development Plan.

What a teacher does is to create a goal, not any old goal, but a SMART goal. (What does anyone have against stupid goals? Seems like we have plenty of them … oops, don’t want a call from Professional Standards. Forget GOT said that.)

Here’s the thing: no one has to achieve the goal. Pick a few things to measure at the beginning of the year because data, data, data! Be careful on this one, though. The district keeps a laser-like focus on end-of-the-year test scores. You know, the ones based on the tests in May.

Now the catch. The IPDP must be completed by April 30. So you can’t use the all-important test scores as a data metric. Gotta pick something else, even if it’s an anticipatory test given in March whose only purpose is to have some numbers to put into the IPDP in April.

Let’s forego this game of Twister, but even that would be more fun. Let’s have an Easter egg hunt. The teacher who finds the golden egg gets a Highly Effective rating for the year. Nothing more needs to be done. As for the rest, the eggs have random scores that will be plugged into the evaluation form.

Oh, teachers! Can you imagine the mayhem as we fight over the best eggs? Find one with a low score and figure out how to throw it out or trick a colleague into a trade.

We could charge the students a fee to video the whole thing on their phones. Might raise a lot of money, even enough to buy everyone an extension cord and a power strip.

Makes as much sense as what we do now.

  • Move the district cars out of the back parking lot. Before this year, teachers who worked in the back half of the campus could drive to their buildings and park in the small lots. However, over the summer, the district parked five cars, logos emblazoned on the doors, in the spaces. Those cars have sat in those spaces for almost a year–unused. GOT would suggest selling the not-needed assets, but who is he to advance a common-sense suggestion? But moving them to let teachers park by their buildings would go a long way as an appreciation gesture. (Bonus points if the district plants trees so teachers’ cars could be in the shade all day. This is Florida, after all.)

Let’s say the district did get a great deal on these autos with the personalization thrown in for free. (Don’t ask about the trade-ins; when you’ve negotiated enough car deals you realize you haggle over the differential. Get a high trade-in offer and the dealer won’t discount the sticker price much. If you will take a lower value, the dealer is generous and throws in a lot of extras that cost very little.)

20 grand for each vehicle. That’s 100 thousand dollars worth of painted steel rusting away under the hot Florida sun. If that’s happening at all 22 high schools in the district, that would be … kaching! 22 plus 5 zeroes, or $2,200,000 of inventory wasting away.

At the conclusion at today’s faculty meeting, GOT’s principal informed the captive audience that we would have to meet one more time for the year because the superintendent had some years of service gifts to hand out. Not that she would put in a personal appearance, but that we would have to sit through an assembly to receive service years pins and for those lucky enough to have an anniversary denominated by a multiple of five, some other cheap <ahem> like an acrylic blanket.

At least, that’s what happened last time.

Here’s an idea. Sell the cars, forget the pins and tawdry whatever, buy some Florida Lottery scratch-off tickets, and hand them out with a personalized scraper. It would be appropriate given that a teaching career is a big gamble these days. You might even raise the excitement level in the room to the level of The Santa Clause Part Two, when Tim Allen broke the tedium of the faculty Christmas Party with gifts of childhood toys.

GOT would offer more ideas, but if you go back to the original piece, you will find his first item about the motion detectors for the lights.

Sigh, they still go out.

Exhibit A: Project Implicit

A textbook example of indoctrination (sorry, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) couldn’t resist.)

As the uproar over Department of Education (FLDOE) deemed inappropriate mathematics textbooks continued this week, the governor claiming that the curriculum materials were proprietary, the publishers could appeal the decision, and he would respect the process, the FLDOE decided to release four examples of objectionable content. In this post, GOT will examine the first example or as he will dub it, Exhibit A for the court of public opinion. Cue the theme song for the People’s Court.

The exhibit shows two bar graphs with the cited source being Project Implicit, which is a research endeavor by three scientists from the University of Washington, Harvard University, and the University of Virginia. From their page, they describe themselves as “The mission of Project Implicit is to educate the public about bias and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the internet.”

You can participate in their research by taking their Implicit Association Test. Actually, there are a number of tests you can choose from, not only a black-white test, but also a weight test, a gay-straight test, others involving Asians, Arab/Muslims, and light skin/dark skin, and more.

Exhibit A presents the test data in two categories: age range and self-identified political orientation. It is labeled ‘racial prejudice,’ which means we can’t tell if the bar graphs are a compilation of the many dichotomies that the project probed or whether it is limited to black/white.

It is easy to see why these bar graphs triggered the governor, the commissioner of education, and groups like Moms for Liberty as an example of Critical Race Theory (CRT). They are not, but that’s beside the point. (CRT is a way to interpret history and social science data in terms of systemic racism, which is not individual bigotry or prejudice but the discriminatory nature of institutions and societal structures based on race that CRT also claims is a social construct–one that does not have a biological basis but is a categorization of human thought.)

CRT is used like people use acronyms for texting, shorthand for talking about race and the disparate treatment of human beings based upon their perceived category. This is anathema to people like Ron DeSantis and Moms for Liberty, who disguise their preference for white supremacy by claiming to be color-blind and that is the highest ideal. They even quote the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. out of context as support.

In response to actions like banning math books over Exhibit A, public education advocates explain that this is not CRT and that CRT is not taught in public schools. They might as well try to explain that LOL means laughing out loud, not lots of love to the uninitiated. They’re not listening. The actual meaning or theory does not matter; what matters is the irrationality and great emotion that the acronym will arouse.

CRT, for them, means any discussion about race other than that America is a great, benevolent nation, Ronald Reagan’s shining white city on the hill, and that is all public schools should teach.

Fun fact: Florida avers that history such as the 1920 Ocoee massacre will be taught. That was when a white mob took revenge on the Black citizens who had had the audacity to vote in the 1920 presidential election. In one November night, a Black population of hundreds was reduced to nearly none.

We will teach the history of Ocoee, but that is not the question. The question is how it will be taught. Will schools present it as a shameful episode of lynching? Or will it be taught as something else? (If you’re following the policies of Ron DeSantis, you’ve already noted that the voting rights of Black citizens is something he does not respect.)

Thus, Exhibit A. It comes from an algebra book that asks students to use a given equation to calculate answers to questions. Like explaining that CRT is not taught in public schools, explaining the purpose is learning how to perform calculations with sophisticated equations is beside the point. For DeSantis and his ilk, it shows how evil, liberal with a big L publishers, are trying to sneak the forbidden topic into their books and therefore the classroom.

Dissecting the prosecution’s argument in the court of public opinion is useless. Whining that we’re not doing that does not help. What’s needed is a forceful argument that examining, discussing, and debating these topics is important and crucial for the upcoming generations of young people whose values and principles will make or break this nation.

Black history and white history are not the same. History is not the recitation of facts, events, and years. It is the interpretation of such things, how we understand the past and how it impacts the present. History is the science of connecting causes and effects. It is the art of tracing the movement of ideas and power through generations to see where we are today and why we are here.

As such, we need to acknowledge that the Black experience and the white experience of America’s colonial years, formative years, and the years since have not been the same. We cannot move forward into the future if we do not understand the present. That means we must hear from diverse viewpoints. We must listen with respect with an effort to understand why without judgment. The crusades began because of the ill-treatment of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land or so we’re told from the viewpoint of medieval Europe. The Moslem peoples of the Near East had a different perspective about the presence and actions of the pilgrims moving through their lands.

Much of GOT’s progress as a teacher came with daily reflection on what took place in his classroom and why. Sometimes, after conflict with students over the violation of basic rules, he was left wondering about the dynamics of the interaction. GOT was the authority, the white authority, in the room. How were his Black students perceiving him? GOT believed himself to be fair, but did they? What was their thinking? Complicating this was the fact that we are also dealing with adult/child perceptions and that students are reluctant to be candid with their teachers.

But understanding that there was a perception filter that came between these interactions was important. GOT read lots of books written by Black authors explaining their perception of what Black children experience in the classroom. By his willingness to listen to others not like himself, GOT gained an appreciation and a perspective he would not have otherwise.

We need to advocate for discussions of race, history, experience, cultural appreciation, and different perspectives in the classroom. Let us not get diverted by the emotional triggers. We can say, “You’re wrong in your attack upon public schools over CRT, but what we really need to talk about is why we need to talk about race in our schools.”

Wasn’t it Socrates, a classical Greek philosopher, a pillar of Western Civilization with its Greco-Roman base, who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

The Tablecloth Trick

The weirdest thing about the textbook kerfluffle that broke out in Florida over math textbooks (of all things) is the timing. It generally takes a year for a school district to go through an adoption cycle and put new textbooks into the classroom.

Back in high school, an English teacher introduced Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) to the subversive mathematics in this book. Wonder why Florida left it off the banned list?

Florida has a 5-year life cycle for classroom textbooks for any course that is state-tested, in particular ELA and math. Every five years, districts go through an evaluation and procurement cycle. The process takes a full year.

In the year preceding new textbooks, GOT’s district assembles district committees, including classroom teachers, to meet over a 3 to 4 week period to review books from publishers who were invited to submit their products to the district. These products have to come from the state-approved list of textbooks because no district is allowed to purchase other publications.

Usually, the committees work through the month of October with recommendations due at the end of the month.

For math, adoption of new books is overdue. We have been using the current books for eight years. The delay was caused by the new B.E.S.T. standards (that GOT sarcastically called the Be Best standards since you-know-who was occupying the East Wing) that Florida’s 2018-elected governor decided was needed because … well, Rick Scott.

For those who don’t know, the current and the former Tallahassee Cocks of the Walk don’t like each other. The enmity is best illustrated by the outgoing COTW appointing new people to every position he could think of to deny his successor the chance to put his own people into the state government. Not to be outdone, the incoming COTW rescinded every last appointment the moment his inauguration ceremony was done.

Scott had made a big show of ridding Florida of the Common Core. That is how we got the Florida Standards, basically a minor edit job that mostly added explanatory comments to the math standards. DeSantis, in an effort to outdo Scott, made a big show of being the one to finally rid Florida of the Common Core, which is how we got to B.E.S.T.

But the new standards threw off the adoption cycles for new books. If they had proceeded on time, Florida would have bought books for the discarded standards and schools would have been stuck with them for five years. Thus, Florida delayed the adoption cycle, in the case of math, for three years.

Preceding the autumnal formation of district review committees, the state has to approve new materials. Publishers submit their work to the state and volunteers receive submissions at the beginning of the summer to review and make recommendations to the state. In the last adoption cycle, GOT was one of those volunteers. He received a rather poor curriculum to evaluate at the beginning of July. His work had to be done by the end of that month. That would allow the state department of education time to consider his evaluation along with others who had been given the same publication in August and come up with an approved list in September from which the districts could work.

April ain’t August. After the end-of-October recommendations of district review committees are sent to the superintendent, district administrations go through their analyses to select the new books. Those recommendations result in negotiations with the chosen publishers throughout the winter. As spring arrives, superintendents have finalized contracts to present to their Boards of Education for approval in March and April.

Contracts are signed and orders are placed. Now the publishers have about two months, May and June, to print the books and deliver them to district warehouses, where the personnel have to sort them out and ship them to schools in time for the beginning of the new school year in August.

It’s a tight timeline. We are in an adoption year and at the point where Boards of Education are approving contracts for the purchase of new books. Suddenly, the Commissioner of Education is banning more than 40% of the list for unspecified reasons, even more if you only consider K-5 books.

If you’ve never thought before that Florida doesn’t do anything in a way that makes sense for the actual running of a school system, you must be thinking it now.

It’s the tablecloth trick. The table is set, silverware in place, drink glasses filled, salad and rolls sitting at strategic elbow positions for passing. The cruets sit empty, ready to receive the hot dishes from the kitchen. The diners have gathered and then the butler appears, grasps the edges of the tablecloth, and attempts to pull it from under the dishes without causing everything to crash on the floor.

Districts have approved contracts based on the state lists, but now, the chief servant buttles in to grab the tablecloth and jerk. Contracts will be rescinded; delivery deadlines missed.

Years ago, in the last adoption cycle, GOT’s district experienced chaos. Books and curriculum materials were shipped to the wrong schools. Some had too many, some got nothing, and the district staff from the superintendent on down spent the pre-opening weekend driving their cars around the city to redistribute the books. Some schools never got all the books and materials they were supposed to.

That simply happened back then. This time it seems planned.

C’mon! The Commissioner would like to tell you about when he was House Speaker and did a strike-all amendment in the last hours of the session to upend a carefully negotiated education bill between House and Senate leaders, including the Democrats. He believes in his tablecloth trick.

Math Textbooks

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) supposes that, as a math teacher in Florida, he ought to say something about the late Friday media release from the Department of Education about all the proposed textbooks that they refused to approve for … well, reasons.

GOT won’t bother to post links as the news is all over the internet, the media, and all forms of [un]social media.

No one knows the details because the outgoing Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, refuses to provide them. However, GOT knows that at least one FOI request has been made for the Department to identify the texts, the reason it was rejected, and the page numbers that have the offending material.

First, let’s get out of the way that the Department could have legitimate reasons for rejecting a text, namely, that the publisher was too lazy or cheap to pay someone to actually edit an existing text but tried to slap new standards onto an old book.

Back in Rick Scott’s day, when he tried the ‘I’m-a getting rid of the nasty Common Core’ stunt, textbook publishers responded by relabeling the MACC.#### standards as MAFL.####. Otherwise, the books didn’t change.

Now, as DeSantis trods the same worn floorboards on the stage, his stunt is to shuffle a few things, rebrand with a new acronym B.E.S.T., and yell like Tarzan as he smacks his chest. In this case, Florida dropped the two letters and went with MA.####.

For a working classroom teacher, one beyond the bewildering maze of [non]mentoring programs that provide little help unless the rookie teacher gets lucky with the assigned mentor, because what these programs really do is saddle a new teacher with ungodly amounts of extra paperwork to do, the textbooks are superfluous.

Shall we get one thing completely clear? The standards don’t mean jack, the textbooks are a best guess at providing curriculum guidance, and the tests rule all.

“What gets tested is what gets taught.” Never forget that.

New standards mean new tests. Scores drop. But then, given a couple years, teachers figure it out and scores begin to rise. Teachers spend unpaid hours at night and on weekends searching for or creating the content needed for students to pass the test that the textbooks left out.

How do teachers know what they need to do? Ha, ha, ha, that’s a trade secret.

Suffice it to say that textbooks have holes when it comes to meeting the testing expectations.

But these textbook bans went beyond that, citing inappropriate inclusions of “CRT” and “SEL” but providing no details.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post gives a good rundown of what’s taking place. The link is behind the paywall, so if you don’t have a WaPo subscription, you’ll have to track GOT down on Twitter (@sampsongregory) because he is gifting the article.

How does a math textbook run afoul of the imperatives issuing forth from the mouth of the Tallahassee popinjay? Was it the word problems? Did the book include statistics of real-world (ha, ha, do you see what GOT is doing here?) examples of systemic racism like black vs. white arrest statistics?

Or was it random? Like the annual announcement of test results, in which Florida’s Department of Education has a narrative to maintain and will manipulate the scores until they achieve the desired narrative, was this merely another salvo in the badly-disguised 2024 presidential campaign of the governor to gin up the base?

We’ll never know. But the governor is tired of teachers supplementing the approved textbook with materials of their own. He has new laws for that, too.

All we’re missing are the attorney TV ads: Teachers! Being sued by parents over your lessons? Call 1-800-JOB-GONE! Our fees are reasonable and no, they are not conditional. You don’t have a prayer of prevailing in court.

It’s Not About a T-shirt, But It’s Complicated

Like those Facebook relationship statuses, the T-shirt story that broke yesterday in St. Johns County, Florida is complicated: not meeting policy, not not-meeting policy, what is the policy and how is it enforced … it’s complicated.

For those who missed it, last Tuesday, March 29, 2022, a teacher showed up at school wearing a T-shirt with the message, “Protect Trans Kids.” The teacher was asked to don a different top by the school’s administration and the teacher complied, but not before Florida’s culture warriors exploited it.

Snagged from local ed reporter extraordinaire, @emdrums. (Her Twitter handle.)

First, we must acknowledge that the shirt violated the school district policy. Teachers are not allowed to wear anything with a message unless it is a district name, logo, or slogan related to a district school or an event or activity related to the district. (Grumpy Old Teacher [GOT] is unable to provide a hyperlink for you. Despite searching the school board policies, collective bargaining agreement, and googling policies, nothing turned up.)

That would mean that teachers wearing a shirt that said “Protect Straight Kids” would also be told to take it off and given a replacement.

This is where it gets complicated. GOT, working in the colossus to the north a/k/a Duval County, has worn T-shirts on occasion with messages, none of them political. For example, “Without Geometry, Life is Pointless” and one that features the Math and Science Departments fighting over who gets the ‘c’ for Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or the Pythagorean Theorem.

It was only some classroom humor, teacher jokes, to keep the mood light. But under the St. Johns policy, those shirts are forbidden.

That’s the easy way out for a school board, but before we denounce them, they are fiduciary agents for the people of their district. They must carefully allocate their resources, never enough, never sufficient, to the educational purposes of their school system. Avoiding lawsuits through no-message dress codes helps them minimize their legal costs of defending themselves in court.

It’s complicated. We cannot ignore the setting either, St. Johns County, the school district where the Board fought a long, losing battle over keeping a trans student out of the bathroom of his choice.

Protect Trans Kids. That’s all the T-shirt said, but yes, of course, it was saying so much more. It was a message of support, a message of acknowledgment, and a message that here was a safe place for children who understand themselves as something other than traditional, heterosexual, or cisgendered persons.

Naturally, that triggered a person like Esther Byrd, a Q-Anon devotee whose main claim to fame is that her husband serves in the Florida legislature until Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, a/k/a Field Marshall of the Culture Wars, appointed her to Florida’s State Board of Education. It’s complicated, isn’t it? This really isn’t about a T-shirt.

GOT’s high school is generally considered a safe school for LGBTQ+ teenagers. It’s a magnet school, ostensibly one for accelerated (IB and AP) classes that lets young persons emerge from their mandatory education years with a lot of college credit already under their belts.

But it’s also a school with a sizeable number of LGBTQ+ students, whose numbers are large enough to be a community where such a teenager working through their identity agenda, which is the developmental agenda of all adolescents–who am I?–that dominates these years, find others like themselves with whom to form friendships and social groups.

Thursday they held a demonstration. Reported as a walk-out from class, it actually took place during one of the lunch periods. The students who organized the demonstration asked permission to hold it, but they were denied although when they acted, they were allowed to go on with it.

They wanted to walk out the front door, but were warned that constituted leaving campus and would result in referrals. Instead, they were directed to the football stadium. A local TV news station, which some had to have called, showed up to take video from the public sidewalk and talk to a few students through the fence.

The demonstration went beyond the bell that signaled the end of lunch. About two dozen students appeared to be involved; the rest were spectators who were caught up in the excitement and milled around. As they prepared to go to class, all were surprised that they were intercepted and waited in a line to receive a tardy pass.

Some objected, but an administrator informed them that as they had participated in an act of civil disobedience, they had to be prepared for the consequences. There was no condemnation of what they did, why they did it, or the passion they felt about Florida’s new Don’t Say Gay law (DSG), but an impromptu lesson about engaging in protest.

It’s complicated. Whatever the sympathies or lack thereof of school administrations, the routine and student code of conduct will be upheld. GOT is now not speaking of his school, but all schools everywhere. Teenagers, gaining in autonomy and exercising that autonomy, learn that they have to weigh the actions they plan, what might ensue, and accept what happens if they go through with their action. And really, a tardy is all they received? That’s a very light punishment given that they may pile up 5 tardies during a quarter before there is a disciplinary consequence. GOT believes number six results in a parent phone call. You have to get to number seven before a student receives detention.

Thursday was the International Day of Transgender Visibility, which occurs on March 31 of every year. GOT supposes the students knew that when they planned their event. It was a protest against the DSG law. The teenagers know as we all do what the law is intended to do: first silence, then disappearance.

Don’t Say Gay means Don’t Be Gay. Everyone gets it despite the denials of politicians and Q-Anoners, which when you think about it, is kinda funny given what Q stands for in the list LGBTQ+.

What’s a teacher to do? We have a responsibility to make our classrooms a welcoming place, one which accepts students however they come to us, one that supports their developmental agenda and helps them along their path to adulthood, and protects their rights.

How do we do that amid these culture wars, where one side paints us as groomers and pedophiles and the other as cowards? Every teacher has to figure this out for themselves.

What can we say and what should we not say? What adjustments should we make to our lesson plans? Do we drop certain topics? The College Board, purveyors of the AP experience, warn us that we cannot deviate from the prescribed curriculum map or we risk losing the AP designation for the classes we offer. That might not matter to a teacher or a school, but think about students submitting their transcripts to colleges wanting credit for their AP classes.

For example, AP Human Geography has an entire unit on human sexuality. How does a teacher negotiate that given that the DSG law empowers parents to sue school districts if they object to the lessons? Long before the current controversy, GOT knew a teacher of AP HUG who said he always skipped that unit. Even before DSG, it was known to upset parents.

But the College Board insists the unit be taught.

It’s complicated.

No, It’s Not the End of the FSA

Back in the fall, Governor Ron DeSantis announced with great fanfare and glee that Florida was leading the way out of the testing wilderness into a new land of milk and honey, dripping with agricultural richness of three times a year progress monitoring but eliminating the environmental impact of once a year, high stakes, highly stressful annual testing. It was to be the end of the FSA, the Florida Standards Assessment.

Quote: Today, Governor Ron DeSantis announced a legislative proposal that will eliminate the common-core based, end-of-year, high-stakes Florida Statewide Assessment and create the new Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (F.A.S.T) plan, which will monitor student progress and foster individual growth. By creating the F.A.S.T. Plan, Florida will become the first state in the nation to fully implement progress monitoring instead of end-of-year standardized testing, and fully eliminate common core.

First, let’s deal with the name change. Educational reform, including testing, changes names faster than a gangster like Al Capone changes aliases to avoid detection and arrest. FAST replaces FSA, which replaced FCAT 2.0, which replaced the original FCAT.

It’s only sleight of hand, like the new BEST standards, promoted by DeSantis and his allies as eliminating the dreaded Common Core from Florida. But the BEST standards replaced the Florida Standards, also promoted by then-Governor Rick Scott as eliminating the dreaded Common Core from Florida.

Neither set of standards eliminated Common Core. If we’re going to discuss education, can we agree not to lie to one another? No hope that either DeSantis or Scott will join us, but at least let’s have honesty among ourselves.

Both the BEST and the FSA standards changed some language, added some explanations, moved a few items up or down grade levels, but overall the Common Core approach remained: cram down performance demands to developmentally inappropriate ages and in the case of ELA, continue the emphasis on nonfiction, using four sources of information to answer questions and construct arguments.

Common Core is not gone although it has garnered a long list of A/K/As, especially from Florida.

But DeSantis promised that the end-of-the-year, high stakes test would be eliminated.

That did not happen.

Instead, Manny Diaz, a state senator from the Miami area, whose name is being bandied about as the successor to Richard Corcoran for state education commissioner, wrote a bill that kept the high-stakes, end-of-the-year test and added two additional state tests called progress monitoring.

Any governor, legislator, or person who says otherwise is lying. The FSA, maybe under a new name, is still very much in effect.

Which edu-testing business will get the call? While many speculate that NWEA will get the contract, others think that Cambium Assessment has the inside track.

That’s another name change that needs explaining with a brief look back at the phony claim of ditching Common Core.

When Rick Scott dumped the Core for the Florida Standards, he also removed Florida from the testing consortium led by Pearson. Although Florida planned to use the PARCC, in the directive to eliminate Common Core from the state, it switched abruptly to a test known as Smarter Balanced (SBAC). SBAC is also a Common Core test. It was the less popular alternative to PARCC.

Sleight of hand and three-card monte. The switch was so abrupt Florida ended up renting Utah’s test the first year. But a contract was entered with American Institutes of Research (AIR), which took on the job of providing the SBAC to states that wanted it.

Florida is still using the SBAC provided by AIR except that AIR sold its testing division to a stand-alone business named Cambium Learning Group. From their website, they announce that the testing has been rebranded as Cambium Assessment.

Are you getting it now?

For the last two years, the Florida Department of Education has required districts to submit rigorous progress monitoring data so it can determine if districts are failing to maintain learning in the pandemic mess we call Covid. For those districts unable to develop their own progress monitoring tests, the FLDOE has provided its version via the state testing platform operated by Cambium.

In other words, the tests are already there. All the new law does is to mandate that every district has to use them and assign penalties if the state decides it doesn’t like the results.

But we were supposed to ditch that end-of-the-year, high-stakes test, right?

Not going to happen. Grumpy Old Teacher suspects the reason is that Florida had no intention of ending the high-stakes nature of testing, including school grades, teacher evaluation, district penalties, school takeovers, and the like. But they couldn’t figure out how to keep the high-stakes without keeping the test that brings it on every year.

Call it what you will, the FSA (and Common Core) lives like the zombies of children’s imagination and games that come to suck your brains out.

Sine Die

Yes, they really do this.

If we put a comma between the words, this could be the wish of every high school student who hates learning trigonometry.

If we read sine as sinus, this could be the wish of every Floridian now suffering through the seasons of oak pollen, pine pollen, ligustrum, or any other thing that causes sneezing fits and nasal drips.

But no, it’s the phrase from Latin that means adjournment without a date of resumption. In other words, finale. Done. Over. Goodbye, and if you live in Florida, good luck. The annual 60-day legislative session has ended. Lots of new, bad laws to digest and, fall down and kiss the dirt, no more opportunity for additional ones.

That’s the usual way. But Florida offers Ron DeSantis, who lets no opportunity go unused to call the legislature into session if there’s another bad law he wants them to pass as he did last November when he converted a committee week into a special session to ban local school boards from imposing mask mandates.

Sine die doesn’t mean what it used to. Not when the legislature ignored a property insurance crisis in the state to pass laws that allow parents to challenge library books, forbid classroom discussions about race and development issues about gender identity, set up a new police agency dedicated to finding election fraud (everyone can see it, right? A tight re-election race and the governor now has the tool he needs …), recreating a volunteer State Guard to rival the Florida National Guard (the state guard would be solely under the Governor’s authority), and many other things like moving university president searches into the shade, setting up a new state board for authorizing charter schools, and imposing financial penalties on school districts for those mask mandates.

We used to eagerly anticipate sine die. As bad as a legislative session could be, at least it was over and we could breathe easy knowing the mischief wouldn’t start up again for another year. But special sessions are coming. Besides the property insurance mess, the Governor is determined to eliminate minority Congressional districts in the state.

Remarkably, the Florida House and Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, went into the decennial redistricting determined to produce new maps that would not be challenged in court.

A worthy goal indeed, and one they achieved through a spirit of compromise and fairness as they reworked their own district boundaries to fit the changed demographics of Florida’s population. It is probable the Governor didn’t like those either, but he can’t veto legislative redistricting like he can the Congressional.

He vowed to veto the map the legislature approved. At this time, the legislature hasn’t sent it to him. Florida, right? Lawsuits are being filed to ask the courts to step in lest Florida run its 2022 elections according to the old districts from the 2010 census, allegedly an unconstitutional practice.

A typical Florida mess. The House actually anticipated this by passing two maps, one it prefers and one as a back-up. No one is sure if this is constitutional, either. Meanwhile, filing deadlines for candidates are approaching and few can guess what district they will wind up in.

You might say this is a good case for drawing four or five superdistricts, each electing five to seven representatives with a version of stacked ranked voting sorting out the votes. But Florida has outlawed that, too. Single districts that elect with a plurality of the vote are all that’s allowed.

This is a fascinating tangent to the main point, which is that sine die won’t quite die this year even after the hankie falls to the floor. It will have to be picked up and, whenever the lawmakers gather, mischief abounds.