Sin vs. Sine

OK, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is starting this post with a math joke because this is the time of the year when he is teaching Geometry students about trigonometry and they want to pronounce the abbreviation with a short ‘i.’

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It’s a sin not to say sine.

However, there’s so much going on today regarding tomorrow’s teacher rally in Tallahassee, GOT wants to avoid Facebook Jail on a charge of oversharing. So he is creating this post to share links and will update it throughout the day.

Denver teacher retention rate goes up as their post-strike wages take effect:

Another take on the attempt to intimidate Polk County teachers:

” This is not a teacher problem, this is a leadership problem.”

Billy Townsend (Polk County School Board member) shares his thoughts.

Billy Townsend (again). He updates his post including this thought: Powerful people in this state are accustomed to impunity; so deny it to them. Our best protection as a community moving forward is to make sure that every act of retaliation comes with a public price.

By any yardstick — from per-pupil spending to teacher pay to graduation rates — Florida is an embarrassment.

Thoughts on the next day.


Back in the day (pre-NCLB days), the verbal portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test contained a section known as analogies. The questions posed two words that were related somehow and asked the exam-taker to look at a third word and supply a word according to the same logic as the first pair.

Are they still doing this?

In these days of Florida education, it seems the lawyers are playing the same game. Last year, the General Counsel for the City of Jacksonville issued an infamous legal opinion in which he asserted that the meaning of the word “shall” sometimes is “may.”

In the issue at hand, the Duval County School Board passed a resolution to place a referendum on a November 2019 ballot asking the voters to approve a one-half cent sales tax for the purpose of repairing and rebuilding schools.

Accordingly, they asked the City Council as the legal authority over elections to place the referendum on a ballot. It should have been routine as Florida law says that the Council ‘shall’ do so once asked.

Not so fast, said Jason Gabriel (GC for the city). Sometimes, ‘shall’ means ‘may.’ The Council is not obligated to do so.


Now comes the warning from the Florida Department of Education legal counsel, Matthew Mears, sent to the teachers of Polk County, that they are conducting an illegal work stoppage a/k/a strike by taking personal leave that was approved by their district and going to Tallahassee to participate in the teachers’ rally Monday, January 13.

Image may contain: possible text that says 'is prohibited by the Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes. day employee organization that strike subject to any damages suffered a public employer result of violation, a by the Employees Commission to for each work stoppage continues or the to the public strike, and certification bargaining agent revoked or suspended. for A employee violating be terminated their position, subject reemployment upon particular significant limitations. As Department Education, obligation Polk County educators are advised of the associated participating in a coordinated effort to duty. Matthew Mears General Counsel Office of General Counsel Department Education W. Gaines St., Suite Tallahassee, FL 32399-0400'
He learned this legal definition right after his tort law class.

Shall means may and approved leave means a strike. 1984 and doublespeak have reached the world of education and the authorities are proclaiming that words do not mean what we know them to mean, what the dictionary says that they mean.

Why is this happening?

It is an instance of the new American feudalism, where democracy and the will of the people are swept aside for an oligarchy of the rich and powerful. In the aftermath, the servants of the government, scurrying for favor, drop their obligations to the public and their profession (!) to do the will of their lord.

There is no other way to interpret this move other than as an attempt to intimidate teachers. Yet Mears overreached with this one and had to issue a clarification that the Department of Education does not employ teachers and therefore does not have the ability to fire them.

But with that clarification he issued the usual whine that if schools have to close due to teacher action, the children suffer. Bad, bad teachers!

It makes one wonder how he passed his Bar exam. Who is harming children exactly?

Those who provide care for them everyday or those who deny them the means to do so?

Those who buy school supplies from their personal wealth or those who refuse to fund schools as they reward themselves with tax cuts to enhance their personal wealth?

Those who want an equitable education for all children or those who see education as a means of plundering the public treasury for private profits?

Those who understand the developmental needs of children, not only intellectual, but physically, spiritually, morally, and emotionally, or those who think that four-year olds should take reading and math tests?

(Not making that one up, there is a proposed bill this year …)

Teachers are coming to Tallahassee. They are not evil, they are not self-serving, nor do they take action to protect their self-interests. They are coming because they have had enough. It takes a lot to get them to leave their classrooms.

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Spinach or no spinach.

As Pop-Eye would say: I’ve had enough and I can’t stand no more.

Teachers have had enough of the disrespect, the impoverishment, the callous dismissal of their professionalism, the abuse inflicted via standardized testing, and the lies Tallahassee politicians tell to support the same. We are coming.

Do You Wear Loafers or Cross-Trainers?

Asking for a friend because the shoe has dropped and if deaf politicians are going to do it to us again, at least they should have the courtesy to drop a shoe of our choosing on our heads.

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Long ago, as teens, some of us actually put a penny in the leather slots.

Now comes the long-awaited news that everyone’s politician-they-love-to-hate, Jason Fischer, District 16 for Mandarin (Jacksonville), has filed his long-promised J-1 bill to require that the Superintendent of Schools be an elected position.

Jason believes strongly in democracy; as his website proclaims, he “believes in being an active and responsible citizen.” Responsible and active enough that his first version of the bill did not attempt to change the superintendency to an elected position, but to eliminate that feature from the school board.

Yes, Jason first wanted to make the school-board appointed by the mayor before the mayor said he’d rather have an elected superintendent.

Grumpy Old Teacher won’t bother you with that cliche, “I was for it before I was against it.” (Oops, he just did.)

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Because what’s the point of being a disgrace to the name of Florida House representative if you can’t look good while you’re doing it?

But maybe Jason has a point. Maybe we should elect all school personnel. How would you like to vote for the principal of your school? Every two years, your principal should have to stand for election and explain why you should vote for her. No need to defend a record, no need for academic expertise or educational degrees in leadership, all that matters is a few billboards, radio commercials, and enough votes for the office.

Let’s not stop there. How about teachers? Let’s vote every year on classroom teachers. Let’s see, what’s important to parents and kids? Yeah, grades. Classroom policies about late work. Insistence on being on time; discipline referrals. Why not let the people vote?

Who cares if the teacher is qualified? Is content knowledge about their subject even important? GOT teaches math, but no one ever asks about his certification from the state to teach middle and high school. No one ever asks about his college transcripts–what background and learning he brings to the school. No one ever asks how long he has worked with children and does he have a clue about pedagogy (how children learn) and adolescent development.

Few ever ask about test scores. (Thank goodness!) But what does even that matter?

Naw, let’s just have a vote–qualifications be damned. And if GOT turns out to be a poor choice, vote him out next year and ignore the wasted year his current students have gone through.

There should have been a sarcasm alert with this post. But now that you’ve got the idea, what makes anybody think electing an unqualified superintendent, more concerned with satisfying political pressures and constituencies than seeing that sound education practices are in the schools (because sometimes that is very unpopular), is a good idea?

Jason does. Because he is beholden to a political boss, his employer with charter school interests, and the likes of the new American feudalists who run this town.

Reflection on the Young

We awoke this morning to the news that a major Iranian general, among others, was killed by U.S. military action in Iraq.

Social media has been on fire with shares of the news from many sources and comments on the significance of it, including retaliation by the Iranian mullahs who control the country.

The usual name-callers have posted their usual epithets against their usual targets.

The United States of America dispatched someone engaged in international conflict and violence, planning and leading efforts in covert wars, but yet is not a rogue terrorist like Osama Bin Laden, but a top official for a sovereign government.

Numerous questions occur to your Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT): Was it important? Was it necessary? Will the gain in disrupting the Iranian export of revolution across the Middle East be worth the cost of the coming retaliation?

GOT doesn’t have these answers, not yet, anyway. Does that surprise you?

GOT has no opinion about this. Perhaps in the coming days as more becomes known, he will form one. But that is not now.

I used to be so sure. I used to have an opinion about everything with the confidence, nay hubris, to pity those who couldn’t understand like me.

No more.

Teaching does that to you. In the free academy, bereft of scripted lessons and narrow curriculums, where students and teachers can pose questions and debate answers, you come to see that there are many sides to an issue and that others have sound logic for their rationale, that others will disagree as passionately as the flush in your face tells you about your passion for your position, and that the Bard was correct when he penned the words: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

As for now, GOT is transported back a few years. Whatever was happening in the news or around the world, GOT thought a war could break out, a major war, and soon the young people in his classroom, 14 and 15 and 16 years old, might be called up for military service (that big of a war!). As he watched them work at their desks during periods of independent practice, he would wonder how many would come back, how many would live their lives out of broken bodies as they reconstructed those lives, how many would have their potential cut-off before their lives could really begin?

The meaning of Soleimani’s assassination and all that will come of it, GOT has no idea.

The only thing I am sure of is that, in the months ahead, I will have more moments of looking at the teenagers I teach and wonder about them marching off to war.


It’s the end of a decade! Or so the radio endlessly proclaimed as your Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) heard as he traveled over the holidays.

The artificial boundaries we draw across the time of our lives usually brings a retrospective. The airways are full of them, so why not join in?

Here are the top 19–most impactful, not necessarily beneficial–education events of the past ten years.

ONE! States adopt the Common Core standards.

TWO! States abandon the Common Core standards.

THREE! That’s a lie. States rebrand the Common Core standards, but the wording and impact remain the same.

FOUR! Betsy Devos becomes Ed Sec for the entire country and (drum roll) … la plus que ca change, la plus que la meme chose–except she doesn’t feel the need to hide it.

FIVE! Arne Duncan disses soccer moms. Later, after he leaves the USDOE, he is well paid for it.

SIX! PISA scores, NAEP scores, TIMSS scores, everybody’s scores … all have failed to rise over the past 20 years of educational reform.

SEVEN! Beyond many passionate defenders of public education, no one questions the use of these test scores as the sole means of judging the quality of public education in America.

EIGHT! The New Orleans all-charter experiment is a failure. As a result, other cities wonder how to adopt the model.

NINE! Tennessee’s grand experiment with an Achievement School District that will raise the bottom 5% of schools into the top tier fails. Turns out it’s harder to raise achievement in struggling neighborhoods than it looks. At least, thanks to generous legislators, it pays well.

TEN! Ohio’s epic experiment with online education fails. Massive fraud is uncovered.

ELEVEN! That pesky first amendment Establishment Clause that prevents using public taxes as payments to religious schools finally gets an end run around it. (Spoiler alert: court challenges to come.) (Extra spoiler alert: “I like beer.”)

TWELVE! NPE (Network for Public Education) releases a report that details how the federal government has wasted billions of dollars in grants to charter schools that never opened.

THIRTEEN! Teacher strikes in states known for their conservatism and ‘red’ status: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona. California, a ‘blue’ state,’ strikes also.

FOURTEEN! Bill Gates pulls out of his grant to Hillsborough County a year early, which leaves the taxpayers struggling to fulfill his promises to teachers without the means to pay for them. There is no more telling example of the callousness toward actual human beings from those who piously cry that they are for ‘the children.’

FIFTEEN! Betsy Devos tosses away that troublesome book known as her Bible because it advocates compassion for the poor and powerless as she advocates that loan forgiveness for young adults defrauded by for-profit colleges is unfair to the few who found a way to pay them back and the lenders who participated in the scheme.

SIXTEEN! Charter schools are resegregating America. Many approve.

SEVENTEEN! Pre-K is the new 5th grade or so it seems as schools abandon the importance of play in the early grades. On a related note, anxiety levels of older children and teenagers is noticeably higher.

EIGHTEEN! School shootings continue and society continues to argue about reducing access to guns as part of the solution.

NINETEEN! Democrats began to shift away from the agenda of corporate reform, especially as seen in the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Has the tide begun to turn?

GOT is sure you have your own list and it seems that 19 is limiting. Add what you think is missing in the comments.

How About It?

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Looking at you, Mayor.

My city is broken. No statistic is more telling than that, despite the extra spending for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the Cure Violence nonprofit initiative, and the handwringing, my city continues to experience more murders per capita than any other place in Florida.

Yet our politicians and leaders remain focused on privatization as the solution that will bring relief.

The now-aborted process of selling off our city-owned utility, the blocking of a school sales tax to rebuild and reinvigorate our city’s public schools, the vision of a city that is 50% or more charter in schoolchildren enrollment, the proposal made by a Downtown Investment Authority board member to privatize parking meters (by himself, of course, but at least he had the decency to resign from the DIA before immediately making the proposal … but wait, for the sheer chutzpah of the action, he was immediately nominated to a board position on the city utility), the condemnation of city (public) owned buildings and the fencing off of the resulting grass lots … how is this helping?

My city is broken.

2019 has not been a good year for Jacksonville. The “Bold New City of the South” has been spiraling backwards to the days of pre-consolidation, when every city leader had his own barony, a fiefdom of corruption, the stench in the city was not merely pollution from the paper mills.

The new American feudalism.

Fortunately for Jacksonville, the attempt to sell the utility brought about a public fury that even the chief baron himself, the overlord Lenny Curry, had to back off.

That doesn’t mean he has changed, either his philosophy or his intentions. He will have to try a different way.

Wait a minute, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT). You started this post talking about the murder rate.

Yes, I did. All the privatization mentioned above, even if it does take place, how will this change the circumstances in Jacksonville’s neighborhoods? How will despair change to hope? How will this cause young men to throw down their guns and see a future in which they can make a living wage, establish loving relationships, and be fathers to their children?

GOT is not blaming the young men. They are making the best choices they can under the circumstances in which they find themselves. GOT does not condone the choices, but! to change the choices means we must change the circumstances.

How about a city that provides resources where they are needed?

A rich, gentrified downtown will not save Jacksonville from the violence. Better opportunities in its neighborhoods will.

A public-owned utility can help rebuild neighborhoods by upgrading water and sewer systems without the need to satisfy a ROI (Return on Investment) that a privately-owned company must meet. It can replace failing septic systems. It can improve the quality of water throughout the city.

How about it?

Good neighborhoods need a school. Public schools are more than centers of learning; they are community institutions. They provide identity, they provide meeting space, and they provide programs that communities need outside their operating hours.

In Jacksonville, public schools and city parks go hand-in-hand. To lose the former is to lose the latter, access to green spaces, access to places where community sports teams can practice and compete, access to recreation.

If we turn our public school facilities over to charter schools, will they provide that access? Anyone playing basketball on KIPP’s courts over the weekend, please speak up.

This points out how the city only works well when resources from disparate sources are combined to meet the needs of the citizens, those whom do ‘most of the living and dying’ in the town. (Obscure reference to a line from the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.)

How about it? How about, instead of shutting schools down, we brought the resources to bear that would make them a success?

How about establishing enterprise zones in the places they are needed instead of the sports complex so that people needing jobs could find them in the places where they live instead of providing subsidies to a certain billionaire who wants to develop property next to a stadium? How about it?

How about we stop judging our schools by test results, nay a test result, singular please, a once-a-year stress-off-the-charts failed exercise that fails to capture student learning and achievement due to bad standards, bad practice, and political pressure to perform? A test that most closely correlates to the income levels of the families of the children.

How about it? How about we use our city resources to bring all agencies to address the trauma of children that leaves them biologically less able to learn?

How about a mayor more concerned with helping the least of his people rather than leaving a legacy?

Years ago, GOT lived in Chicago. The public housing projects were a mess. Crime-ridden, forlorn, no one wanted to address the issues.

Then a mayor made a splashy move. She moved into the worst of the projects as she reasoned that if the mayor lived there, the city would focus its efforts on making the project an outstanding place to live.

How about it? What would happen if Lenny Curry moved his family into the northwest corridor? Grand Park or across the river in Arlington.

Would his priorities change? Would the city’s?

How about it?

DeMinimal DeSantis DePay Proposal

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock … oh, wait, this is Florida, it may be better say unless you’ve been hiding out in a hammock under mosquito netting in the swamp … you’ve heard that the governor made a proposal to raise the minimum salary for Florida’s public school teachers to $47,500 a year.

An estimated 101,000 teachers throughout the state would benefit from the proposal. (Disclosure: Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) would be one of them, but not by much. After 15 years, he has been able to get close to that amount.)

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Oh, Florida! Teacher pay proposals often end up here.

Veteran teachers have objected, not because they think they are paid enough, but because the plan would nudge them up to a level that will also be offered to brand-new teachers, the teachers whom they are expected to mentor and develop. The plan would devalue the years of experience that veterans possess despite generally-accepted research that teachers grow in effectiveness over the years, especially after the first five years in the classroom.

That’s particularly galling to veteran teachers under current Florida law, which prevents pay raises to any teacher not rated effective or higher and steers bonus payments to teachers based upon being rated ‘highly effective.’

If effectiveness is so important to the politicians, why does the governor’s proposal make no distinction between teachers who have persevered in the classroom and new hires, who have only a 50% chance of remaining in the classroom after five years?

Despite this, the proposal to set a minimum teaching salary is a good start.

But it’s only a start.

How about we set a minimum scale instead? New teachers up to five years of experience make about $43,000? Five years to ten years, $46,000. Ten to fifteen (gracious, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) hopes that doesn’t sound like a prison sentence), $50,000. Fifteen to twenty, $55,000. Over twenty, $60,000.

Provide the funding to school districts through the base student allocation and let each district’s teachers negotiate with their school boards to set an actual contract.

But even that is only a start.

It is scandalous that support personnel make low wages and get ignored when pay for educators is discussed. While this can be a difficult area, they should not be left out. For purposes of discussion, how about a minimum of $15 an hour, a generally recognized standard to aspire to for all workers.

That should extend to contractors as well. It does no good to specify a mininum wage for a custodian or cafeteria worker if a school district contracts with a private company for those services and the private company is free to suppress wage levels.

Other issues remain. There is the cost-of-living differential across the state as well as the fact that some counties have recently adopted taxes to supplement teachers’ salaries and others have not. Finally, legislation would need some kind of linkage to cost-of-living indexes so that the new minimums would not be made irrelevant by rising prices.

Finally, the elephant in the room must be addressed. Which teachers would be included under these proposals? All teachers, all teachers whose schools receive public money in some form (traditional, charter, vouchers), only public school teachers? If only public school teachers, how do we define public? Does that include charter schools?

This is why good ideas are often hard to implement in legislation and get the intended result.

But let’s make a start a graduated scale of minimum salary geared toward years of experience.

Disclosure: GOT is in his 15th year of teaching. According to his pay scale, he would receive a very modest bump with the governor’s proposal to set a minimum salary of $47,500.