Metal Musings

Thanks to all who commented in the various places around the web where I share my thoughts.

My latest post, Metal Detectors, brought responses from around the country about other districts and schools who have installed these devices to screen high school students as they daily arrive for learning. Apparently, it’s not difficult to run thousands of students through detectors in a matter of minutes.


Let us be clear about that.

If we really want to stop students bringing weapons on campus, we need to restrict access to one entry point, examine all bags, and investigate every beep of the stand or wand.

That’s not going to happen in 15 minutes, probably not even an hour.

Almost every student has a three-ring binder in which to keep their work as they progress through their classes. Every binder has enough metal to set off a metal detector.

All I can conclude is that the show must go on, as they say on Broadway, but what we are doing is only for show.

If all a teenager has to do to smuggle a gun on campus is to put it in his/her bookbag, … do I need to finish this thought?

If we make them carry their bags through the detector, then I stand by my opinion that every single binder will set off the alarm and that student will have to undergo a more thorough search.

We’re going the wrong way, people. Technology will not save us.

Sensible gun laws will if we combine them with relationship building with students.

Or haven’t you been listening to the Parkland students?

They reacted with condemnation when they returned to school and were told only clear plastic backpacks would be allowed.

“And a little child shall lead them.” Anyone remember where we read this?

Let us listen to the students, and then ACT on what they tell us.

Metal Detectors

In the ongoing response to the February 14, 2018 tragedy at Parkland High School, Florida districts are hardening the infrastructure at their schools.

This week brings news that the Duval County school district plans to install metal detectors at all high schools. This was news that seemed to take even board members by surprise.

Wondering about the interworkings between district leadership and the school board and a change in long-standing policy (informal) against installing metal detectors at schools is above GOT’s paygrade.

Nevertheless, given the limited information we have, GOT can’t help but wonder if the new policy or practice is well thought out.

First, each school will receive two metal detectors for the hundreds of students who arrive daily. At my school, that means every day about 1,500 students will have to pass through the new security. It’s not only the walk-through that will be slow; every student arrives with a book bag, often an additional sports bag, and sometimes a purse. All will have to be hand searched or there is no point to having metal detectors.

Think about the last time you flew on an airplane and the long delays of getting through security. Airports have x-ray machines for the baggage. Usually, a dozen or more persons are working the equipment. Even so, hours-long delays are common. Now think about 1,500 students arriving at school within 20 to 30 minutes by bus and car.

How long will it take to get every student into class?

Second, the machines will be supervised by administrators. At my school, that’s two adults per station. That takes them away from supervising the actual arrival areas. Who’s going to take their place? Or do we hope that the students will not engage in misbehavior before they walk to the entry point?

Third, students arrive early. They are not supposed to arrive until 45 minutes before the start of the school day. However, many are dropped off early as parents have to get to work on time. Do we keep the doors locked? Or will we have to round them up at a certain time and make them pass through the detectors?

What about faculty and staff? What about those of us who arrive one to two hours early to put in the extra time needed to prepare for the day? Will we be told not to show up until our contract time? Will the adults on campus also have to pass through the security screening?

If not, won’t students quickly figure out how to enter the buildings where faculty do and bypass the screening?

Students who show up early often go to a willing teacher’s room to sit and do work. For some, lacking internet service at home, that is the only time they can do their online assignments. They will no longer be able to do so if we keep them out of the buildings until administrators arrive to screen entry.

GOT would hold up the purchase order until these issues are considered and a well-thought-out plan has been drafted, debated by board members, and shared with the community, most especially parents.

Otherwise, we face another issue that our schools are beginning to resemble prisons. A lot of kids think that, anyway, but do we want the atmosphere of our schools to change from a learning environment to one of fear? Effective learning takes place when students are free to explore, examine, and challenge. But a daily reminder that school is not a safe place to be will make that hard to maintain.

Update One: I forgot to add the disclaimer that my blog posts, including this one, represent my opinion and mine alone, and should in no way be interpreted as an official or even an unofficial position of the school district that employs me. So said an email I received last week about blogging and using social media. I don’t think anyone would fail to recognize that I speak for myself, but now–hey–CMA accomplished.

Update Two: In today’s faculty meeting, I learned that the district does not intend to search every bag as students enter school. So this is really more of a PR move with an estimated cost of 2.5 million rather than a serious attempt to improve security. But hey! Maybe the state will approve the grant and pay for it.

Math Test Musings

As a teacher, testing is one of my least favorite activities. It is necessary, but I can’t say I like it.

I recognize the advantages of testing students. First, it forces them to learn and prepare to the extent that they have to know what they are learning. They can’t rely on anyone to supply them with the knowledge they need when they have to do perform on their own.

Second, it does give me the opportunity to check whether my subjective impressions of how well the students are doing matches with actual student achievement.

Third, testing also gives me an opportunity to probe every student for misunderstandings that are tripping them up in a minimal amount of time.

As a teacher, I want to test in ways that give students credit for what they know and do correctly even if they fail to arrive at the correct solution.

I also want to remove barriers that prevent students from showing what they know. For example, unfamiliar test formats often trip students up. It isn’t that they don’t know how to solve the problems or that they can’t come up with an acceptable answer, but the format confuses them and they don’t make the right response. These are the types of barriers that make standardized testing mostly useless in providing any meaningful results.

These days, I use an online platform for testing that my district’s curriculum provides. There are limitations to the platform, but it does give a means for giving a fair test that aligns with historical classroom practices. The format provides the needed challenge for performance, but it enables me to prepare the students by utilizing the same platform for providing a study assignment. I have found that high school freshmen do not know how to study for tests. I can tell them, but it is frustrating because they often do not understand what they should do. Having them do an actual preparation assignment takes them through the practices they should employ to study for the test. Since I began doing this, test scores have been much better.

If I was a lazy teacher, I would rejoice that the online platform scores the responses for me. I could use the percent that’s correct as the grade. But then I am not really testing for student understanding. All I’m doing is yielding my professional judgment to a dumb computer. All the grade records is how well the student provided answers that matched exactly what the computer is looking for.

That is why I require my students to work their problems on paper before entering their responses into their computers. I then review every incorrect answer on every test, consulting the students’ work papers to see what they were trying to do and awarding credit for everything they knew and did right.

For example, if a student makes an incorrect response because of an arithmetic error, I give them most of the points for the problem because the test was checking to see if that student knew that alternate interior angles formed by parallel lines are congruent. The student knew that, set up the correct equation, but made a mistake in solving the equation.

Also, in working on a proof, I can avoid students being penalized because they misspelled a word in providing a justification for the test problem.

In terms of teacher time, it requires more than any other means of testing. But I do it because how else will I have an authentic assessment?

When it comes to annual state tests, though, this is exactly what they don’t do. The result is that state tests do not measure performance, not the performance of students, nor teachers, nor schools, nor districts. They are worthless.

All a state test tells us is how well the students navigated the test platform; that is, how good of a test-taker the students are.

Isn’t it time to stop the charade?


My Pay, My Say

Flush with a court victory in June’s Janus decision, the groups behind the plaintiff began campaigns in the states covered by the decision, such as California, to counter organizing activities and recruitment drives by teachers’ unions.

That was expected. Teachers’ unions are among the most demonized targets in the savage politics of our era. Keeping unions from signing up new members to offset the loss of agency fees from non-members would be a goal of the now status-quo reform crowd who view unions as the greatest obstacle to their privatization agenda.

But the Janus decision has no effect in Florida, which has had right-to-work laws for a long time. Florida unions have adjusted to those who benefit from union-negotiated contracts, but don’t have to pay the union for that service.

There is no reason for Florida teachers to receive email messages such as this:

Districts can’t withstand union demands.

Unions make promises of raises, better benefits, and working conditions, but are often unable to deliver on those promises. Union demands have become so great, many school districts are now suffering under this pressure. Too often, promises made by unions are unsustainable.

You do not have to pay for a union that is not delivering on its promises. To learn more about the topic click here.”

But that is the message I received this weekend from a group calling itself MyPayMySay.

I visited their website to “learn more.” If you can stomach it, this is all they offer (1 minute 20 seconds):

The video is misleading and features the usual tired rhetoric about teachers’ unions opposing improvement in education and forcing members to support their political positions.

The site really is not to “learn more,” but to present a way for anyone to “opt out” of their union. Notice how they attempt to co-opt the language of those who oppose the privatization agenda, in this case, those who oppose annual standardized testing by states.

GOT has to ask: Why is this necessary for Florida? No teacher is forced to join a union and no non-member pays anything to the union.

This is union-busting, plain and simple.

My Pay, My Say: Yes, yes it is. It is MY PAY and MY SAY and Grumpy Old Teacher has this to say: My union delivers. I have better pay, better benefits, and better working conditions because my union represents its members. In particular, my union was able to preserve health insurance for the employee without a payroll deduction to help pay for it.

The pay isn’t great. After 14 years, my base salary is only $44,000 a year. Still, I manage.

If my pay and benefits are unsustainable, it is not because my desires are out-of-line. Many teachers struggle to sustain a minimum standard-of-living on their teacher salary. Did you see the Time cover and read the lead story, MyPayMySay?

The unsustainability of teacher compensation is due to state legislatures defunding their schools through millage reductions, transfer of tax dollars to voucher programs and charter schools, and establishing numerous categoricals that limit what school systems can spend funding increases on.

What is unsustainable is the destruction of public education, the profiteering by politicians (oh yes, it seems every Florida legislator who champions charter schools works for a charter chain or has a relative (spouse, sibling, in-law) who owns and operates charter schools.

What is unsustainable is the corruption. I often wonder if the only reason the politicians and legislators get away with it is because they are so blatant about what they are doing.

I support my union because it delivers. My district enjoys labor peace because it works with the union for the benefit of all. My union will agree to set aside contract rules if a situation demands it. We have given up negotiated step raises when the U.S. economy goes into recession. We are not the enemy; we are the partners that make our school system work for all.


Self-Driving School Buses

Recently a friend posted this article on her Facebook news feed:

Charter School buys self-driving bus

My comment wondered how a bus would handle a fight on the bus or other emergency, say if the bus caught on fire.

A response demanded to know if I had read the article.

I did not, but I stand by my remarks. I don’t always need to read an article to know a stupid idea when I run across it.

First, this is a charter school planning to transport children on self-driving buses. They are the sector of education that keeps its eye on the bottom line. They already are saving by not having to pay actual drivers who must come with qualifications. A safety assistant will ride on the bus with the children, but how long before the charter school decides even that minimum-wage paying job can be eliminated. I don’t have the confidence that a charter school, focused on its bottom line, will resist seeing an extra $20 to 30,000 dollars for the investors by going with no adult on the bus.

Maybe it will be parent volunteers. Many charters require parents to work a minimum amount of volunteer hours if their child is to attend the school. But even volunteers, as representatives of the school, represent a liability if they make bad decisions and children are hurt.

If the bus is self-driving, will the safety assistant have any control over the vehicle? Can they make it stop? Open the doors to evacuate the children?

Second, we have reports that the technology is not perfected. One ride-sharing service, experimenting with self-driving vehicles, experienced a pedestrian fatality as the car failed to stop. This article I did read and it reported that the human attendant could not react in time when the technology failed to make the car stop.

In another incident, a distracted driver of a Tesla failed to take control of his vehicle when the autopilot system failed to recognize a semi-truck’s side and went under it. This is not an isolated incident.

Still ready to entrust children to a bus that drives itself even if an adult is onboard?

Third, Amazon, UPS, USPS, and FedEx are experimenting with self-driving vehicles to deliver packages. The technology is not ready. Their trucks still arrive with a human driver who puts our packages on our porches.

If delivery services are not willing to entrust packages that have products inside them to self-driving technology, why would anyone think it’s a good idea to do so with children?

A Big Blue Bucket

Don’t get me wrong. Teachers are grateful for all the donations and help they can get. But sometimes, teachers get a head-scratcher:

Massachusetts schools receive blue buckets filled with items to use if an active shooter is on the campus.

blue bucket

A rope, a wedge, a hammer, and duct tape: what could go wrong?

Here is what teachers received and the interpretations teachers have been sharing on what they think they should do with the items:

ROPE: The rope may be used to secure the door. After piling furniture in the way, the rope may be tied to the doorknob and to something else in the classroom to prevent the shooter from getting the door opened.

GOT response: It is difficult to get the necessary tightness into a nylon rope to maintain tension to prevent slack. Also, what knot should be used? This may work in a Hollywood movie, but in real life, the rope is useless as it will be impossible in a panic situation to pull the rope tight and secure with the proper knots. Bad knots mean the rope will not hold the door shut.

DUCT TAPE: Duct tape may be used to seal the door cracks to prevent smoke from entering. Also, may be used to seal wounds so victims do not bleed out.

GOT response: Knowledgeable people, such as those with military experience from dealing with wounds on a battlefield, have said that duct tape will cause terrible damage to the body when it is removed. It is not a good option. As for that smoke, these are active shooters. They are not releasing poisonous gasses into hallways. They are not setting fires. They do use smoke bombs to cause confusion, but these do not present a threat to people secure in a locked-down classroom.

HAMMER AND WEDGE: Use the hammer to pound the wedge under the door to prevent it from opening. If the shooter does get in, throw the hammer at him.

GOT response: The wedge idea is not a bad one, but in a panic situation, no one wants to stay at the door for a long time whacking away at a wedge on the floor. Again, it is easy to do it during a calm drill, but when everything is running on adrenaline and fear, simple tasks get much harder to do.

As for throwing the hammer at the shooter if he gets into the room, you are most likely dead before you draw your arm back. Why do people always fall back on the dumb idea that the way to stop the killing is for teachers to throw things?

BUCKET: During lengthy lockdowns, the bucket may be used for emergency bathroom needs.

GOT response: Go ahead, teachers, give permission to a child to expose themselves and use the bucket in front of the other children. See how long you keep your job. And if it’s only a drill, don’t expect your friendly custodian to empty the bucket, sanitize it, and return it to your room.

Finally, we learn that the duct tape or rope can be used to secure the shooter after the hero-teacher has knocked him out with the hammer.

I don’t want to reproach those whose hearts are in the right place, but lacking good counsel, they are making ineffective responses to a very serious problem.

Blue buckets are not the answer.

Sensible gun registration laws, combined with a ban on civilian possession of lethal firepower above a certain level, better mental health services, removal of the CDC ban on a study of gun violence, and more attention to the root causes that push young people to make a fatal decision is a better way to go.

P.S.: As the Doctor* would say, you have lost the right to talk to me if you think the blue bucket is a good idea but it lacks one thing–the gun Betsy Devos wants to put into it.

*Doctor Who, BBC science fiction television series.

GOT Salutes Grumpy Old Commish

This one has already made the rounds, but you probably haven’t seen the whole thing.


Yes, the Florida Commissioner of Education, Pam Stewart, got huffy when a reporter came up to her and asked a question.

The Commissioner demanded to know why the reporter was interrupting her lunch because she had only 15 minutes … leading us to assume she wanted to eat and was being kept from it.

Funny thing, though, when you watch the full clip, the Grumpy Old Commissioner (GOC) wasn’t eating. She was loitering in the meeting room talking to people.

If her purpose was to talk to people, why would she object to answering a few questions for a reporter?

If she wanted bodily sustenance, why hadn’t she left the room to find food?

My guess is the staffer who tried to head off the reporter caught hell when GOC et al. got back to DOE offices and out of the public eye.