Republishing this diary in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.... late, but I hope not too late.
Also including a link (hopefully) to a new Orange County School Board member Rick Roach, who agrees with me and the vast majority of parents and teachers in this state. I'll admit to not watching the whole thing, but I heard a lengthy interview with him on the radio and he echos all our concerns about the damn test and even took it and failed it. I would like to have all the republicants in Tallahassee take the FCAT and their results should determine if they keep their jobs!!!
Link to the article in the Orlando Sentinel: http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/.... If my link doesn't work, pls google him. He's worth the search.
I would also like to point out the fact that Standardized Testing and charter schools are for profit businesses. So next time someone says this method of testing is good, ask a few questions: What company creates and prints the test and what is the cost to the taxpayers? What company grades the tests and what is the cost to the taxpayers? What company prints the textbooks that the students must use for these tests and what is the cost to the taxpayers? Who sits on the boards of these companies or who is CEO, CFO? How many of these companies are tied in some way to current or past legislators? Also ask why Charter Schools are paid for by taxpayer money, but don't have to meet testing criteria like public schools and yet public schools are denied funding based on their overall grades on these stupid tests? Oh and guess who's in on the taxpayer funded private charter school bandwagon? None other than Betsy (sp?) DeVos. Wife of Amway billionaire and owner of the Orlando Magic, Rich DeVos. Like they or their cronies need any more blood money from us... They raped us from the back by getting us to build their arena and now they are doing it from the front with these charter schools everyone is sooooo in love with. And guess what? They are an epic failure and that has been coming to light in the past few years. At least one per year is taken down or management changed and all because of kids not learning or financial corruption.
My mantra ever since my daughter entered the Florida Public School System in 2000 at the tender age of 5, has been "Stop Teaching to a test"
This will be a long, maybe at times rambling diary about the contrasts of her public school education vs mine, with lots of reminiscences and annecdotes, and finally my progressive vision for Florida's public school future. So pour a cup of coffee and join me.
Follow me below:
We live in Winter Park, Fl, but not the rich side. So when my daughter had to be enrolled in kindergarten, she was districted for Killarney Elementary. Yes THAT Killarney Elementary. The one from the 60minutes piece. The district that this school draws from is predominantly (for lack of a better word and not to be demeaning) the ghetto. The area called Rosemont, used to be solidly white & a few latino, middle class and working class. In the past 15-20years, the whites started moving away for reasons I don't know and it is now predominantly black & a few latino working class & poor/struggling and yes, I'm sure a few people on welfare.
I used to rent an apartment in this area before I bought my house so I know whereof I speak. So the kids at Killarney are mostly ghetto kids from poor or struggling families, lots of single moms (like me). In other words, people who the republicans in charge couldn't give two shits about.
She entered Kindergarten and we were led to the classroom of Ms. Oglesby. She welcomed my daughter with open arms, literally, hugged her long and hard and said to me "Don't worry Mom, she'll be just fine" (She took all the other new kids, black, white, pink & purple into those loving arms that morning). I stood outside the door, peeking in the glass window, crying because it was my baby's first day of real school, then crying harder to see that Ms. Oglesby had immediately engaged the children and my daughter didn't even look back at me. Ms O as the kids called her was a wonderful and creative teacher to all her kids. That was actually her 1st year with her own class and yes my daughter did become one of her pets along with a few others. My daughter learned from Ms. O. She started to learn new things, think about and continue begining to read and at the end of the year, Ms. O dug into her pockets and made cute little caps and capes for the kids to have a little "graduation". We parents who could, donated food & drinks. She made little "yearbooks" for the kids with lots of pictures they took in class and playing and field trip, which my daughter still has today and looks thru every now and then.
Next came 1st grade, we found out that her assigned teacher was out on an extended maternity leave and she would have a substitute for about 4 months. While I can't remember her name, I do remember she was vibrant and engaging and yes my daughter learned some more. She assured me that even though she was a substitute, she would be teaching the curriculum until regular teacher returned. Because here in Florida, they start teaching to that test from 1st grade. When the regular teacher came back (can't remember her name either) the difference between the two could not be more stark, sub was day and this one was night. After a few weeks she sent home a note saying my daughter was not reading at grade level. I requested a meeting to discuss. I asked how she had assessed my girl's skill level and I forget her answer. I asked if she or the school did any after school remedial lessons, she said no. I asked what should I do? I was doing my best at home but, I'm impatient and not a good teacher. She said I need to find some tutoring somewhere. It really felt like she couldn't care less what I did or if the kid passed or failed. My ex and I found the money (and lots of it) to put her in Sylvan learning center for 4 months of Saturdays. She passed the first grade reading at her level.
Before that school year was up I was venting about this and the kinds of kids in her class to a friend. And here I am not being racist, but speaking from experience, I saw these kids not listening to their teachers, saw them mouth off at them, saw how rude they were to each other and the teachers, saw that they obviously weren't being disciplined at home and I didn't want that to rub off on my kid, because kids DO learn from each other.
My friend said, hey use my address and register her at Audubon elementary (much better school). I said ok! I registered her during that summer and in the fall she was assigned to Mrs. Shipley's class. Mrs. Shipley was awesome! We had a long conversation at meet the teacher night and I explained my kid's experience at Killarney and asked how she could build on the Sylvan thing. She said she would work closely with my girl and would make sure she advanced and not slide back. She was wonderful, she did as promised and gave my kid extra attention, making sure she was getting it, while never neglecting the others. Mrs. Shipley also talked to me at length about the FCAT and how she (she'd been a teacher for 20years by then) and other teachers really didn't think it was the right thing for the kids but she and they had to follow the law.
Third thru fifth grades were relatively uneventful. She was doing reading & math on each grade level and passing her FCAT each year. Every year that FCAT.
6th grade she was assigned to Glenridge middle (keeping her in the "A" school district) with all the well off Winter Park & Baldwin Park kids, but also the kids from the "University" area, lower income, mostly latino and some black. I made her take the IB (International Baccalaurate) program. After her first week, she wanted to quit. Because it was hard she said. Because she has to do so much extra work she said. "Why can't I just be in regular classes like the regular kids?" I said because you're MY kid and you're not normal dammit! We eventually came to an agreement. She takes IB courses for all 3 grades of middle school and I won't expect her to do it in high school. It is a really good program, lots of critical thinking, projects, etc. But it's not offered in all of our middle and high schools. Why? Because it costs money to be accredited and each school must pay for it out of their own budget, and most of our schools in lower income areas are too poor to pay for it. Because our Florida republican party cannot see or willfully ignore the fact that when you take money away from schools, you deprive our children of not only a normal education, but an advanced one as well. They are pre-determining the winners and losers instead of giving each Florida child an equal education. But hey, as long as that FCAT's being administered, they're good.
Well, the kid passed all her FCAT's in middle school and dealt with the IB program. She was then assigned to Winter Park high. BTW they did something interesting in 8th grade. It was 2008 at the height of the Democratic Primary when the front runners were Hillary and Barack. Her social studies teacher split the kids up and assigned one group to "be" Hillary and the other to "be" Barack, had them research their person's positions on issues and they did mock debates in class for about a week. The kid loved it.
So now the kid is at Winter Park High, with the same mix of kids as middle school. I smiled silently when we were selecting her classes for 9th grade and she started selecting AP and honors classes (because "I want to make sure I get some college credits before I get there" she said. Then blew it by saying "so I won't have to work so hard when I get there") Well at least the 3 years of IB made her well prepared for them. She joined ROTC and has stuck with it and is now a junior and still doing her AP and honors classes and is still passing her FCAT's. It's all about the FCAT unfortunately. One thing though..I'm on the board of the parents boosters for her ROTC and these kids and parents have alot to be proud of, we (parents) donated enough food for a 3/4 trailer full of food to Killarney elementary to feed their 80 kids & families in need. The kids were extremely proud of themselves and deservedly so. There is a long story of how this came about, but I'll save you reading that.
My education was entirely different....my formative years were spent in Barbados. Education is a prized commodity there and also in my family. My Mom drummed into me from the time I started school "They can take anything away from you, but as long as you have a solid education, they can never take that away" Hence my not letting the kid quit IB. However I didn't heed this until I was an adult. I was very well educated in primary school. There you take a test when you're around 11 or 12 and your score determines which high school you will be assigned to. Unfortunately, even though I was taught everything I needed to know, I choked on the test and qualified for a lesser regarded school than all my sisters. Mom was livid. I pissed around at my high school for 2 years. Mom still has report books that in the comment line on each subject say "talks too much and does not pay attention".
Mom made an executive decision and pulled me out and put me in a private Catholic school. I would've said OMG if it had been a part of the vernacular back then (it was the 80's after all). I don't know if it was the strict discipline of the nuns ( we had nicknamed Sr Elizabeth Ann Cujo, yes that was mean, but we were bratty teenagers), but something happened and I started buckling down on my studies.
2 years later I made a disastrous decision and decided to move back to NY with my dad. I was 15 at this time. I was zoned for John Adams High in Ozone Park. This school pulled from the well off area of Howard beach and the working class area of Richmond hill & Ozone Park. So we had a mix of Jewish, WASPs, Latinos, Blacks and a minority Indians (me being one). My dad registered me and they had to test me because I was coming from out of the country. Well, they told my dad that I tested at 11th grade but they had to put me in 10th because of my age. I would have been to young to graduate without being in a gifted program. So I became a sophomore at John Adams High.
As I was placed in regular classes, I aced them, since my Barbados education had so far advanced me. By the end of my 1st semester my teachers were recommending me for honors classes. I entered my sophomore year not knowing anyone and with great trepadition. I was assigned to Mr. Sonnenschein's home room and it turned out he was also going to be my biology teacher. He was a gregarious man in his late 30's to early 40's with a mop of dark curly hair. He talked to us on the first day of school like he had known us for years even though he was meeting us for the first time. I discected the damned frog in his bio class and he was very sympathetic to us who were gagging at the grossness. He was a great teacher.
I had History with Dean Howard who was the Dean of the History department, who was absolutely amazed at my good grades and grasp of the subject matter and promptly recommended me for honor's History the next year. I've always been a history buff.
I had math with Mr. Brodsky who made me get it. I had always had problems with math from an early age and he just made me get it. So much that he recommended me for honors math the next year. I had Mr. Leiberman that year and just could not get him. I started failing and went to see Mr. Brodsky about getting out of there. He and I met with the Dean of the Math dept. and were able to transfer me out of that honors class into a regular class. I started passing again.
I had literature with Ms. Dombrowski who wove stories of her volunteer work in third world countries into books like The Hobbit.
I had literature in my junior year with Mr. Perreira. A burly man who was always neatly dressed with a smoothly shaven head. This man managed to make Macbeth interesting. He brought a record player (again it was the 80's) in and played a live Broadway recording while we read along. You cannot know how much that lent toward our understanding of Macbeth.
I had speech class with Dr. Breslauer. He called me motormouth after a few weeks and my girlfriend Felicia minimouth, because we sat in the back of the class and were always talking. He taught us how to get up and speak in front of a crowd and get over our jitters. We had to compose and then make those speeches in front of the whole class.
I had chemistry with Mr. Wynn, a Korean war vet, who always wove stories of his army friend Mr. Lipschitz into our lessons. Somehow I remembered stuff when I thought about Mr. Lipschitz stories. Of course we were bratty teenagers and constantly snickered at the name. Which, thinking back on it, I figured is why he did it.
I had swimming with Mrs. Miller who did her damnedest to teach me the breaststroke. Unfortunately it didn't take. She was a synchronized swimmer with the great Esther Williams and would tell us little stories about her experiences.
I had a music theory class and afterward could watch operas on PBS without being bored to tears. Carmen has become my favorite opera because of that class.
Then there was the inimitable Mrs. Saks. She was my typing teacher in my junior year (yes typing on a typewriter). She was a brash, tough as nails Jewish lady from the Bronx. She had short strawberry blonde hair and I loved her from the first minute she yelled at me. There was something that drew me to her. She was also my word processing teacher in my senior year. She selected me to do service for her in my senior year. Service was basically doing paperwork and running erands for any teacher or counsellor. She also happened to be a guidance counsellor. In my senior year, I had more than enough credits to graduate, thanks to my honors classes, etc, but I still had to go to school, so I took the mandatory, english & math classes and word processing and was out at 11 while others were cutting.
Back to Mrs. Saks, she would often tell us stories about Mr. Saks and her kids during class. One morning when I was doing service for her, it was the middle of winter and I was wearing a huge baggy sweater over a t-shirt, my sweater and t-shirt slipped and she saw bruises on my collarbone area from where my dad had beat the shit out of me on behalf of my stepmother the night before. She grabbed me and asked me what happened and it all spilled out. She promptly looked up who my assigned guidance counselor was and dragged me to her office, told my story and demanded that she take some kind of action immediately and didn't leave me until she was assured that I would not be going back home that afternoon. Long story short, I was moved out of my dad's place and in with a friend and her family for a while. Mrs. Saks was constantly asking how I was doing while I was working for her in the mornings. At the end of that, my senior year, she took me and a couple others who did service for her during other periods out to lunch (during school, which was a big deal) at an Italian restaurant nearby to thank us. That was the first time I ever had manicotti.
I will never forget (I am now 41) those teachers both in Barbados and in New York who taught me with creativity and wit. My daughter cannot say the same. She will remember some of her teachers, but not because they taught her with creativity. They can't. They have to teach to a test. Always.
Now here are some common sense solutions for our Florida education system.
We spend millions of dollars per year renting portables for almost every school in our 67 counties. Even brand new schools get portables. Stop renting portables and build permanent structures on each property. This will involve an outlay of upfront funds But the schools will save more on the back end.
Get a grant from the department of energy and negotiate a discount with an American solar panel manufacturer and retrofit each and every school with solar panels (hey, we're the sunshine state dammit!). Wind turbines, where solar is not feasable. Sell excess energy back to the power grid, (Florida Power or Progress energy) and have that power paid for directly back to the county school district so the greedy bastards in Tallahassee can't get their hands on it. This will again involve an outlay of upfront funds which the schools will earn back tenfold
Take away school lunch contracts from the big companies providing unhealthy meals and instead make contracts with local, mom & pop restaurants in the immediate vicinity of each school to make the breakfasts & lunches. Stipulate that the principals be in charge of selecting the restaurants and they cannot hire any restaurant which is a chain or not locally owned. 5 different restaurants for each day of the week. Money is going directly into the community and the kids will get much healthier meals. Also contract with local farmers to provide the veggies for each day. Net change in current spending? Nil
Hire unemployed people (qualified ones who should be selected by the teachers and principals) to do after school tutoring. Create a training program for them with the teachers and pay them tax free. I don't know how that gets done, but someone can figure it out. Get a grant from Dept of Ed. They need to be paid at least $15 an hour for a minimum of 10hours. Mandate that every kid who's getting c's and below attend these after school tutoring classes. We don't realize it, but kids can change the trajectory of their lives when they are exposed to new people with different experiences and more education. Think of how many un-employed professional or retired folks there are right here in Florida.
Stop paying a private company to grade our FCAT's (Which I believe is tied to one of Jeb's brothers). If the damn tests are going to stick around, keep the money for grading them here in the state. Use our state universities and pay them to grade the tests. Work it out with the admin of our state Universities and maybe work it into a credit hour or more for graduate students and give them a deduction on their tuition for it. Assign different counties to different uni's and they shouldn't grade schools in their own or surrounding counties. Our kids take that damn test in Feb & March and school ends in June. That does not make sense. It only forces teachers to cram more shit into their brains in a shortened period of time. When have you ever had a promotion test 3 months before the end of the school year?
So how do we get these common sense, financially responsible changes to come out of Tallahassee? I sincerely don't know. But I know this....hundreds of thousands of Floridians stayed home and sat on their thumbs during the election of 2010 and we ended up with an even more partisan legislature, intent on taking away more womens rights and wanting everyone and their mother to carry a gun and trying to roll back every environmental regulation on the books. We ended up with a crook in the governor's mansion. When are we going to have some kind of Democratic/Progressive political organization in this state? Want to know something? Winter Park and Baldwin Park, two of the wealthiest suburbs of Orlando, went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2008. 8 out of every 10 lawn signs were for him. I know because I counted. Guess who's signs are in some of those yards now? Ron Paul. Yes Ron Paul. Can we please have some kind of progressive organization and get out the damned vote this year? Please? Those teabaggers want their country back? Well I want my fucking state back!! And to get rid of that damned FCAT