And the Survey Says!

Family Feud' Releases Video Compilation Of The Most Outrageous Answers
Always a surprise on the board, but Steve Harvey pulls off the comedy every time.

Having sat through too many dreary faculty meetings, in which everyone sat around and speculated on what the students thought about the school’s programs … you have too, haven’t you, and wanted to jump up and scream with Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) that if we want to know what students think, we should ask them!

Thus, GOT’s student survey to find out how well the distance learning worked for them over the past two months.

There won’t be a lot of analysis on this post, but reporting of one non-scientific sample (GOT classes only) on what took place.

  1. No surprise, but 78% prefer learning in the school building to learning at home.
  2. GOT settled into a format of conducting live lessons via the district-approved platform according to the school’s normal schedule. In other words, what we would have done in the building is what we did online. (The school advised us to keep to the A/B day schedule.) The results were split: 50% said it worked for them, 50% said it did not.
  3. As an alternative, the nos expressed a preference for online programs: Khan Academy, Math Nation, or something similar, including recorded GOT recorded videos of instruction. This is a result that cannot be understood without context. Read on.
  4. Only 10% wanted daily live meetings. That’s probably for the alternate days we did. 35% wanted a weekly meeting; 41% wanted a meeting only as needed.
  5. Trying to arrange group work was also split. 40% said no. 43% said maybe, but wanted to know how it would work.
  6. As for the learning schedule, 46% liked continuing the A/B school day. 49% wanted weekly assignments that they could complete according to their personal schedules.
  7. Given the option of having the scheduled classes, but at later times, only 4% thought that was a good idea.
  8. 70% reported that they missed learning in person. 59% missed interacting with teachers. 87% missed being with their friends. 42% missed sports, but only 12% missed other after-school activities. 57% said they missed having the structure of the school day. (In comment boxes, many talked about lack of motivation at home and the distractions of siblings and even parents who took them away from learning for other tasks.)
  9. GOT’s students are teenagers. The thinking might be that they are old enough to look after themselves, but here are the skills they said they needed help with: 75%, keeping track of assignments; 32%, organizing a work space at home; 68%, creating a time schedule that they could keep; 35%, submitting assignments; 31%, asking for help.
  10. Most students needed about an hour for GOT’s math assignments (on average.) Only 8% said two hours and 6% said over two hours. (GOT cringes with that 14%. How often has he told students not to waste hours on something they don’t understand; stop and seek help.) But see above–31% need help to do that.
  11. Average daily time for all lessons was evenly distributed. Only 17% reported needing more than 8 hours.
  12. Generally, students tried multiple means to submit work. What worked was below what was tried. No one method worked for all.
  13. For assessment, 45% of students wanted a traditional test even if it was made very difficult to combat cheating. 40% wanted project-based assessment.
  14. How to record attendance also varied. No one method was preferred overall.
  15. For communication with teachers, 59% said a live class meeting, 52% wanted a post in the meeting app, 62% said email, 15% wanted a personal appointment, and 11% wanted to be able to call teachers on the phone.
  16. Finally, curriculum preferences varied: 28% printed textbook, 27% online textbook, 9% teacher handouts, 37% software program.

It’s time to ponder and plan for the future. Some of these responses are not limited to the pandemic and distance learning; the inability to ask for help, for example.

Others, it’s not an either/or situation. Multiple avenues work best.

Finally, for context, the response rate was 84%.

Address to the Class of 2020

Everybody’s jumping into this game, from the classy to the cringe-worthy, and Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) cannot resist the opportunity to deliver a virtual address to the graduating class of 2020.

You were robbed. How you looked forward to your capstone year, the culmination of everything you had known since that first day when you toddled into kindergarten, that year of triumph, of prom and senioritis, that strange ‘disease’ in which you wonder why you find it hard to finish your classes and tasks, of senior trips (commonly called ‘grad bash’) and discipline assemblies during which principals did their best to intimidate you out of the traditional senior prank … oh, you could throw some toilet paper into the trees but oops, too many people are hoarding the rolls …

You can’t even walk the stage.

The feelings you feel … they are real. It is grief. You are grieving all that you should have had and now will never have.

Grief is a part of life and it is more than an emotion attached to death.

Humans grieve losses. Even in normal times, as you celebrate your achievement, you would find feelings of sadness mixed in. The friends you are saying goodbye to, the teachers who gave you advice and provided a foundation for your world, but it’s time to move on.

Every change brings the excitement of new possibilities, but the grief of leaving the familiar behind.

The pandemic of 2020 means that you have more losses and, therefore, more grief to process.

Give yourself grace. This is what it means to be human. Not only the triumphs and the exhilaration of wins, but the experience of loss and sadness.

But it is not the end. GOT remembers living in southern Indiana decades ago. Too many people were trapped in their past. Their life trajectories peaked at their high school prom and went downhill after that. Nothing else would compare, not even their weddings.

Don’t make that mistake. Life is full of possibilities and you must move forward to embrace yours.

What? Should GOT dwell on his prom as unmemorable as it was? The pictures were so awful that his date made a pact with him that we would bury them forever. No one will ever see … not even now, 40 years later.

Then there was the senior class trip. GOT spent a day with a friend, who quickly became a girlfriend, but the bus ride home in the dark < censored> disgusted his friends, hmm … too much information? Well, GOT had cut out another boy, who confronted him on the floor during the graduation ceremony … well, let’s just say no one wants to get into a fight when the Principal and Superintendent are ready to hand off the diploma.

Too much information? And yet, in the long run of a life well lived, it didn’t matter.

That is your future: a life well lived.

It’s not easy to see now. You cannot grasp that you are writing your life story, but you know what? You are your own author. If you don’t like a particular plot twist, you have the power to erase it and write something different.

You won’t remember me. That is the lot of a freshman teacher. No one ever looks back and says that was the one that made a difference.

It’s not important. I did it for you, but not to be remembered. I did it, as all your freshman teachers did, to provide a blessing that carries on long into the future: for your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren.

The world is out there. For my life adventure, it was a restless movement to Chicago, back to Silver Spring (Washington, DC), the land of my youth, out to French Lick, Indiana (oh, what a name!), down to South Florida, up to Kentucky, back to Lake Okeechobee, until I finally took root among you in Jacksonville.

Who knows where your adventure will take you? All GOT can tell you is that it awaits you and no pandemic will rob you of it.

Go forth, Class of 2020. Be the change that we’ve been waiting for.

Tomorrow belongs to you.

The Four Horsemen

Who Are the Four Horsemen?
War, famine, disease, and death.

War upon war upon the earth, and not only those in which the United States has involved itself.

Disease flourishes among us. We flatten the curve while we curse its name because we don’t have an answer: no proven treatment, no vaccine, no end. All we can do is to mitigate the rate of infection so as to give our health care systems the ability to deal with the sick.

Famine? Locust storms unprecedented since the days of DDT afflict Africa. Here in America, our slaughterhouses (usually going by the moniker “meatpacking plant”) are closing as the virus sickens many of their workers and the rest refuse to show up.

Death is close behind. Many of us check the websites from Johns Hopkins and others that track the progress of Covid-19, confirmed cases, and deaths.

Are the four horsemen loose upon the Earth? Personally, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is not given to an end-times view of the pandemic. Let’s leave the dystopian fantasy end-of-the-world stories to Hollywood.

But we can still have some fun in identifying the horsemen of the education apocalypse.

Conquest, the white horse, whose rider holds a bow, wears a crown, and rides as a conqueror bent upon conquest

Major education bill to create new school voucher and redo teacher ...
His moment of triumph; at last, people are clapping for him.

That would be Jeb Bush, Florida’s governor from 1999 – 2007. He originated the idea of giving schools a single letter grade to indicate their quality and performance that was based only upon the percentage of students passing state exams. He established foundations to push the school grading practice to other states. While the practice remains controversial–without evidence to support its validity–it has spread to 15 other states.

He proposed a voucher plan whereby school tax dollars, those paid by the public through sales taxes and local property taxes, would be diverted to private schools, even those run by religious institutions. The original 2005 law was declared unconstitutional because it violated the Florida constitution that required a uniform [GOT emphasis] system of public education. Not to be deterred, through his foundations, Bush kept at it and a new voucher bill was passed in 2019.

Complete privatization is the goal. The coronavirus pandemic is only his latest opportunity to advocate for the shutdown of traditional public schools, “It’s time to learn the lessons from these heroic efforts and plan for a future in which public education can continue without access to classrooms — not just because of a pandemic but because that’s the future of learning.” (Source: May 3, 2020 guest column in the Washington Post.)

“Longer term, all K-12 schools need to adapt to distance learning. Already, one-third of college students take courses online. The $200 billion-plus market for corporate learning is exploding with content libraries, assessment tools, workflow learning and “micro-learning.” (ibid.)

Conquest. Currently the chair of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (which he founded), Jeb Bush now sees no need for schools to have a physical location. He does note the inequity of digital learning, the challenge in providing required-by-law services to students with special needs or are English-language learners; yet that does not slow him down as he rides over the landscape seeking the privatization of all schools.

Full details of all that this white horse has done and, more importantly, what he hasn’t done even with his ideas like third-grade retention because of low-reading scores, may be found in this Answer Sheet column by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post.

Bent upon conquest, he sees that his hour has come.

War, the fiery red horse, who wields a great sword and has power to take peace from the Earth

Under House Budget Plan, No Public School Funding Without Corcoran ...
A gavel will do just as well when running a legislature as a tyrant.

Richard Corcoran, current Education Commissioner of Florida, declared war on Florida’s public schools long ago. Long connected to ALEC, the Koch Brothers front for pushing privatization and other destructive legislation for the rights and lives of workers, the Commissioner’s greatest legislative triumph came two years ago when he single-handedly discarded a carefully crafted education bill by both chambers of the Florida legislature and substituted his version.

Many bills died that year, including the former Speaker’s cherished Schools of Hope initiative, an attempt to impose charter schools from a very small list of favored vendors on neighborhoods whose schools are deemed failing. But Corcoran was not to be denied. On the eve of the final day of the legislative session, he took the compromise bill, did a strike-all amendment (a legislative maneuver that takes a bill that passed out of committee and replaces all the language with entirely new text and often legislative intent), and put in place everything he wanted including Schools of Hope and other public school harming provisions.

Not content to be termed out of office, Corcoran is now the state’s Education Commissioner who has stated that his goal is to cut public school enrollment by two-thirds in the next few years. He is bold in his praise for choice, ignoring the fact that choice is the choice of the charter and private schools, not that of parents.

He has threatened to take over entire school districts because they do not bend to his will. Given a choice, if the district does not make the choice he wants and turn their schools over to charter operators, he will make war upon them.

Waging his war, he sees this time as a strategic opportunity by any means possible, such as increasing the capacity of the state-run virtual school to be able to serve every student in Florida.

Famine, the black horse, whose rider holds a set of scales amid cries of a day’s wages for a meager meal

Step Up For Students - Home | Facebook
But why are they wearing masks?

One of the more devious ways to starve public schools is Step Up for Students, the not-for-profit tax dodge that began as a way for Jeb Bush to evade the court decision that declared his voucher program unconstitutional.

If the children never receive the bread, are we starving them when we give it to others? That is the reasoning behind the dodge. If the state never receives the tax dollars because it grants a tax credit to corporate donations to this group, does that count as a diversion of tax dollars? No, the reasoning goes, because the state never touched the money it was due.

The overall problem, as numerous people have noted again and again, is that the state government does not increase the funding nearly enough to account for the additional parties to whom it distributes the FTE budget. Under the current expansion of recipients, every small church school holding class in their basement, parochial schools, charter schools, and more are lining up for funding.

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One face among many that would qualify for black horse honors.

But the way the legislature plays it, it’s a zero sum game. Every dollar given to a ‘choice’ option is one less dollar for public schools. Public schools are slowly being starved, which is highly ironic during these days of pandemic closure when it is the public schools feeding children, not the charters, many of whom directed their parents to drive down the street to the public school to get the free lunches and snacks being provided.

Death, the pale horse, with the power to kill by sword, famine, and plague, as well as the wild beasts of the earth

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At least GOT was able to find a pic without
that annoying, obnoxious smirk.

There are many who would qualify as the rider of the pale horse. On the national scale, there is Betsy Devos who might easily qualify as the educational antichrist of our time. Her hijacking of CARES act relief money, meant for all schools, for her pet cause of private school vouchers, is typical and troubling. Her rewriting of rules meant to protect victims of sexual assault chills the blood. Her continuing, coercive attempts to collect on student loans when the courts have told her to stop … yes, Betsy brings death and Hades rides in her train.

But this is a Florida-focused piece. There are still many candidates for the rider of the pale horse, indeed, the three mentioned above could easily be in this saddle. But today GOT will let the honor go to Erika Donalds, who has pushed death to public schools in the guise of choice since her days of serving as an elected board member of a school district.

Her history has long been recorded:

“My time on the School Board really led me to conclude that the best prescription for school reform is the free market,” said Donalds, who listed her ideal objective as finding a way to get education scholarship accounts to more all students. She acknowledged that some leaders of the “monopolistic” school district model might argue the idea of funding children’s education wherever they find the best opportunity for them would spread funds too thin, making it harder to plan and diminishing children’s education.

Erika Donalds brings years of commitment to school choice issue
GOT was unable to find a pic without the smirk. Apparently, it’s as contagious as Covid-19.

From the Tampa Bay Times: Donalds has some skin in the game. She also runs the Optima Foundation, which helps charter school startup organizations to open their schools. And her husband, Rep. Byron Donalds, chairs the state House PreK-12 Quality committee, which hears legislation on some of the same issues she’s advocating.

Because why kill a public institution of 200 years standing if you’re not going to get paid for it? Influence helps.

She’s not the only one. Richard Corcoran’s wife runs charter schools. Manny Diaz, Republican state senator from Miami, works for a charter organization. He exploited his political power to get his employer, Academica (Doral charter schools) onto the Schools of Hope list when it first was excluded. There are many, many others.

They have one wish and that is death to public schools.

Florida, take note. These horsemen are riding and it will take more than a pandemic to defeat them.

It will take your votes. It will depend upon a change of power in Tallahassee.

Be a #publicedvoter. Vote them out, all of them. Let’s start afresh with a government that responds to the needs of its people.

Three Days Grace

Three Days Grace - Pain EP | Releases | Discogs
Apparently not. Maybe Corcoran didn’t like the band’s look.

But pain would be an appropriate word to describe what parents, students, and teachers are feeling as DCPS (Jacksonville, FL) adds three extra days to the calendar to fulfill the 900 minimum hours of instruction required by state law.

Despite earlier district assurances that the school year would end as scheduled, May 29, it now seems that three extra days are needed.

First of all, you need to understand that Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is not complaining or objecting to the district requiring him to work three more days. In a previous post, he already did the math and figured he was getting paid this year for not working a few days.

DCPS asked for a waiver, but the Florida Department of Education denied it. (Source: an excellent reporter at the local newspaper, The Florida Times-Union. If she says it, she has sourced it well and can back it up. I have sent my own email to the department asking the question, but after seven days, they have not replied.)

Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s theme song? I hear Ron DeSantis singing in the background.

Three days grace. Sorry, Duuuuuuuuuuvaaaaaallllllllllllllll, but you ain’t getting it. Three more days to hold class, June 1, June 2, and June 3.

Maybe it’s because these fine state officials forgot to read their New Testaments. (Teachers often feel like they are receiving an Old Testament-style stoning.)

Or maybe our fine commissioner, Richard Corcoran, R-state official, because that capital R is everything, has never experienced grace and, therefore, is unable to extend it to others.

Although GOT would argue that the real adulterers of the public education obligation of the state are those who would give an exclusive to private and virtual schools.

(But maybe the metaphor is running away with him.)

The point of this post is to point out (pun intended) of the foolishness of it all.

Nobody is going to show up for online classes these three extra days of June. Teachers are having a hard enough time now getting kids to show up. Parents are overwhelmed with trying to keep their kids online, or haven’t you been reading their SOS tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram help-me’s, or what should be the latest in coded acronyms: IGU.

(I Give Up.)

We teachers will hold classes. We will honor our contract, the one that requires us to work on the weather days when they are replacing regular school days that were canceled.

But far too many of us will be singing this song:

What makes a math teacher pull his hair out … when 1 = 3.

The Order of the Phoenix

In these crazy, pandemic days, it can often seem like we’re living in the middle of a J.K. Rowling novel; where the Avada Kedrava curse comes as a surprise in the night, no one knows how they were exposed, but their lungs are shriveling and light is going out.

Here's A Mindblowing "Harry Potter" Fan Theory About The Avada ...
No joke here. The virus is some serious <ahem>, indeed.

But our heroes, the Order of the Phoenix, resist. They fight the good fight to resist the evil overcoming their world.

Today, in Jacksonville, FL, we found out some of our phoenixes who live among us. We don’t have Dumbledore, Remus, Sirius, Tonks, or the Weasleys, but we do have Scott Cairns, Audrey Moran, Hank Coxe, and others.

They fight on behalf of public schools.

In case you missed it, last year the school board of the 20th largest system in the nation decided to ask citizens to adopt a half-penny sales tax to replace or repair the oldest buildings in the state of Florida; the average age of a school in Duval County is almost 60 years.

That didn’t sit well with the mayor. (Name withheld because he really is not on a par with Lord Voldemort.) He ginned up opposition through the General Counsel’s Office, who issued the confusing legal opinion that sometimes ‘shall’ means ‘may,’ which wasn’t binding until it was.

That meant the City Council, not to be confused with the Counsel, could act as a super-school board and refuse to perform their constitutional duty to approve the referendum for a November ballot that the school system offered to pay for. And they did so, because of course they did so. What’s the purpose of being a death eater unless one can curry favor with the mayor (pun intended!) by holding out for a ransom payment to charter schools.

The school board, with no other options, sued the city to force the Council to do their duty.

The Counsel forbid the school board from doing so as he cited the city charter that he was the one and only one (“Only I can live forever”) to decide legal issues. He went so far as to tell the court system that the city charter forbade any judge from deciding a legal issue contrary to what he said.

Too bad no one was paying attention.

To bring this story to a close, the judge was agreeing with the school board more often than not. As the City Council (and Counsel?) realized they were about to lose, the Elder Wand did not belong to them, not truly, they decided to settle.

The virus crisis has thrown the timetable out, but at long last, the city and school board settled out of court. Basically, the school board gets their referendum on the November 2020 ballot.

Before you think the good guys won, remember that the sticking point was the hand-off of building money to charters that didn’t need it. Thanks to a new state law that took effect for 2020, the school board will have to hand over about 20% of the new levy to private school operators that don’t need it.

So the school board won, but they lost. So did the taxpayers and citizens of Jacksonville, because when charter schools close, they don’t return the property or the money. (The explanation, which is not unique to this city, would require another blog.)

But why celebrate Messrs. Coxe, Cairns, and Moran?

While the Counsel (not the Council) raged that the school board did not have the right to hire outside attorneys, even when the Counsel’s conflict of interest was apparent to all, even when the Counsel was violating every legal ethic guiding attorney behavior in that he was pushing the interests of one client to the detriment of another, these citizens stepped up to represent the school board.

At the time, only last summer, they said they would not bother with collecting fees unless the school board was successful in their suit.

With the settlement now in place, the bill was due. But these Phoenixes, these heroes of the community, these attorneys who still know the meaning of pro bono work, waived their fees.

“To charge the district for helping to provide enhanced learning environments for our children, improve their security, and bolster the overall economy of our community would be unimaginable,” Coxe said.

“It was our privilege to help give the children of our county a better education. Charging a fee would be unthinkable.”

Thank you, Mr. Coxe, Mr. Cairns, and Ms. Moran. You show the civic pride of a city that once knew how to work together. You show us a better way.

Jaw-Dropper

Did they really say that? Yes, they did. Florida’s Department of Education, in announcing the governor’s decision to keep schools closed through the end of the year, concluded the press release with this sentence:

In March, FDOE also announced the cancellation of spring 2020 state assessments, meaning that schools gained back instructional time that will allow local districts and schools to still end the school year based on their local calendars.

http://www.fldoe.org/newsroom/latest-news/florida-extends-distance-learning-through-remainder-of-academic-year.stml
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The Commissioner must have cracked his teeth on one of these.

What a startling admission by the state that prides itself on leading the nation in data-driven, soul-crushing, profiteering, privatizing, faux-accountability, school grading, testing, testing, testing, presidential campaign-promoting (oh, wait, that one didn’t work out–please clap,) educational reform.

Canceling testing means that we get back instructional time.

Canceling testing means that we get back instructional time.

Canceling testing means that we get back instructional time.

Don’t react with the well-worn Homer Simpson response, “Duh!”

Live in the moment when the Department of Education admits that testing steals time for instruction.

And then ask yourself which you would rather have.

The Coronabushaccountability Virus

What seems a long time ago, Florida (surprise, surprise) did the right thing and canceled all state testing for the 2019-2020 school year that we are finishing via the miracle of Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Classroom.

With everyone at home and inequities abounding, who has a good computer and who doesn’t, who has access to broadband and who doesn’t, who is squinting at a cellphone to do a lesson and who doesn’t even have that available, it only made sense to let it go for this 2019-2020 school year.

Even if the state tests could be administered to students working from home, the results would be garbage. Garbage in, garbage out: even Richard Corcoran, Commissioner of Education, had to admit defeat and that it would be impossible to rate schools, principals, and teachers this year.

Many have said this proves that testing is unnecessary, even bad. Calls have begun to cancel testing for next year as even a Spring 2021 test will not truly measure … well, whatever it is supposed to measure.

Then there are those who think the tests should be administered in August or September when we reopen the buildings. They claim a diagnostic will be needed to determine the amount of academic regression each student has suffered so teachers can make plans how to bring them back up to speed for the tests.

Because the only point of school is passing tests.

Let’s face it. While the new coronavirus, officially designated Covid-19, is closing schools and otherwise upending education and all life, there has been another virus having the same effect on public education. It sprang into life 22 years ago and has been increasing its devastating effects ever since.

Which was worse: SARS on the left or Bush on the right?

Call it the Coronabushaccountability virus. Its end result, intended by the former Governor himself, is the same as the virus: death. Death to public schools.

Death to schools that until the era of NCLB and its successor, ESSA, sought to improve the lives of children, provide for their needs, and honor their developmental agenda (anyone remember Piaget? Vygotsky? Erikson?) In these days of testing and privatization, nobody else does, either.

Those days when a teacher could indulge children’s curiosity and veer off the curriculum map–killed by the coronabushaccountability virus.

Those days when preK, K, and 1st grade children were socializing and learning to integrate into a human society–killed by the coronabushaccountability virus.

Those days when parents weren’t persuaded by self-appointed educational experts who never spent a day in the classroom or bothered to consult with those who had that their children were trapped in failing schools–killed by the coronabushaccountability virus.

Those days before standardized testing masqueraded as a measure of student learning–killed by the coronabushaccountability virus.

22 years. We’ll live through Covid-19, but let’s take the opportunity to eradicate the testing virus from our schools.

We don’t need diagnostic tests in the Fall. Tests are worthless, anyway. All they reveal is the test-taking skills students possess, which in turn depend upon the ability of parents in the early years to read to their children and give them counting blocks to play with, which in turn depends upon the income and socio-economic level of the parents, which does not depend upon but correlates with the amount of trauma too many children experience before they enter school.

Tests from the Spring of 2021 will tell us nothing except how to put children into the categories of that last paragraph. And you know what? We don’t need a test to do so.

While we shelter at home to flatten the curve and defeat the pandemic, let us do the same to this long-running virus.

Let’s kill the bushaccountabilityvirus. We owe it to our children and succeeding generations.