The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Madness Prevails in Florida Schools-and Probably Elsewhere

on July 3, 2016

I really didn’t plan to post anything today, but one of the posts on Diane Ravitch’s blog caught my eye this morning and I couldn’t remain silent.  Below I will quote some words from Ravitch and the contributor and then more from a respondent.  I will conclude with my own comments.

Why One Beloved  First Grade Teacher is Leaving by Diane Ravitch

It is outrageous to see beloved, dedicated teachers leave the classroom. Yet when you think of the steady barrage of hostile propaganda directed at them by the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, D.C. think tanks, and others, you can understand why they find it impossible to stay. I hope there is a new wave of articles about teachers who said: No matter what, I will not leave! I love my kids! I love my work! I will not let the reformers drive me away!

David Weinstein is throwing in the towel. He is in his early 50s. He shouldn’t be leaving so soon. He explains how teaching has changed, how much pressure is on the children, how much time is wasted collecting data that doesn’t help him as a teacher or his students.

He sums up:

I guess the big-picture problem is that all this stuff we’re talking about here is coming from on top, from above, be it the federal government, the commonwealth of Massachusetts, the school administration. But the voices of teachers are lost. I mean, nobody talks to teachers. Or, if they do talk to teachers, they’re not listening to teachers.

  • Chris in Florida says: 
 The days of closed door teaching are long gone.
Every single day someone is doing a drive-by data collection/observation/walk through/classroom visit with a clipboard of Danielson gobbledegook, an iPad with a ridiculously impossible rubric, or a Surface with a multi-page checklist and often it is morning and afternoon. 
The exponential growth of out-of-classroom ‘experts’ (often TFA or other young folks with less experience than my little finger) is hard to fathom to people who used to teach even 5 or 10 years ago and haven’t experienced this firsthand. 
We are constantly checked for ‘fidelity’ to mandated lesson plan formats, program implementation, questioning techniques, what every single child is doing in that odd moment, how our classroom is set up, what we have displayed in the room, and a host of other things. 
Yes, there is a Danielson rubric that judges you on whether your furniture is moved around by children to accommodate their needs and if it is not witnessed during a drive-by, you get marked down. At first our administrators were reluctant to implement the harsh system but now that their bosses are relentlessly dogging them to improve things, they are embracing the ruthlessness and using it to attack teachers and blame them.
People come from the state, the district, the administration, and some I have no idea where they come from. 
They don’t sit down and discuss anything. They never smile or speak. You get a generalized report in an email later on, often flawed, criticizing you for something they didn’t have time or make the effort to see even though you know it is there or that you did it or do it frequently and then you lose all respect for their opinions and you resent the intrusions more and more. 
But you suck it up and put up with it because otherwise you can be dismissed at will, here at least, and then possibly lose your home, causing your children to leave college and go to work, become dependent on an elderly parent, or become bankrupted by a medical issue, all things that have happened to me or my colleagues.
I was able to game the system for a long time but it is no longer possible. The level of scrutiny is akin to the Panopticon. Deviation from approved scripts, formats, approaches, questions, lessons, standards, etc. brings swift and merciless criticism and accompanying threats of downrating which, in FL, leads to permanent and irrevocable loss of your teaching license after 2 bad yearly ratings. Nothing will get you by anymore; Jeb Bush’s ‘blame the teacher for poverty and racism’ meme has overtaken everyone and everything and no one with power or authority will gainsay it or challenge it anymore.
It’s easy to tell other people how they should react to this madness, especially if you yourself are not under the same level of scrutiny. 
I salute this teacher and I will join him soon. The point of no return is very, very close for me also.

    Several years ago I wrote an essay titled Let More teachers “Re-invent the Wheel” that was published in Education Week, which I chose to post on this blog on 2015/09/17  (without the word “more” in the title.) Although I wrote that essay before the time of high-stakes testing, the CCSS, and the restrictions on teachers described above, it exemplifies what I have learned from my own experiences as a school principal and believe even more strongly today. In short, a good teacher designs teaching units, lessons, student assignments, and classroom organization to fit the needs of his or her current group of students, and makes changes based on their responses. Despite impressive titles or qualifications, outside observers cannot make sweeping judgments based on isolated observations or rubrics.

     Right now I can think of only three actions that might end the madness in Florida and other places where it exists: schoolwide teacher walk-outs, having independent school districts country-wide, or a national ending of the CCSS and high-stakes testing.


4 responses to “Madness Prevails in Florida Schools-and Probably Elsewhere

  1. Don Bellairs says:

    Dear Diane Ravitch–There are great teachers out there who already design their own lessons and meet Core standards.
    Dear Joanne–You can add to your lit of three actions that of ceasing to label them “high stakes.” That’s marketing, not reasonable assessment. Lyon’ Ted. Crooked Hillary. High Stakes Tests. All are labels used by people whose intention is to smear, not objectively evaluate. A whole lot of people are too afraid to even give these needed standards a chance. And nobody is risking anything. Not a thing.
    Giving local districts more authority over these decisions without creating workable federal oversight and accountability methods is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result.
    In my experience, the people who complain about new standards are the same ones who weren’t meeting the old ones.


    • writerjoney says:

      Can you think of any other situation besides public education where huge groups of ordinary people are being held to “high standards” in order to be”certified”? I can’t.

      Getting married? Driving a car? Joining the army? Voting?


    • Chris in Florida says:

      Don, I was meeting the old standads and I am meeting the new ones. I was rated Highly Effective for the past 4 years in a high-poverty, Title I school rated a D by my state for the last 4 years.

      Your spin about standards is troubling to me. To imply that they are something other than a guidepost is not supported by the research.

      Point me to research that shows that standards fulfill any of their promised reforms: equity? end to poverty? better teaching? better learning outcomes? Rise in international test performance? Nope. None of these are achieved by standards alone.

      The vast majority of human knowledge was discovered, created, and transmitted before standards-based reform; teaching without them has a much longer track record of success. Yet I do find them valuable and I use them, despite your stated doubts about my teaching abilities. I was teacher of the year 4 years ago, by the way, and I hold 2 advanced degrees and National Board Certification.

      I don’t know where you teach but here in Florida the new VAM law states that 40% of a teacher’s evaluation rests soley on the scores of a single test. Even if you are highly rated by your administrator you will be knocked down to a needs improvement or unsatisfactory rating if your tests scores do not meet or exceed an arbitrary cutoff point. Two years of those ratings and you are permanently and irrevocably stripped of your teaching license.

      That seems pretty high stakes to me. Teachers are being non-renewed based on test scores alone. Veteran teacher pay is forever frozen forever at the rate of four years ago unless you willingly give up your guarantee of due process and allow your salary to be determined by your test scores. High stakes for a bank account, for sure.

      Since I do not teach a tested grade my VAM comes from a twice a year computer test my 6 year-olds take if they are in the mood. I had 3 absolutly refuse last year and one who purposely chose ‘A’ for every answer because he was mad about getting in trouble at lunch. High stakes indeed.

      Why do you call these very real, very serious outcomes spin? Your contempt for my reality and that of millions of teachers is distirbing at best. No other profession strips its professionals of licensing or credentials over a single, arbitrary test score.


      • writerjoney says:

        I’d like to post your response as the featured essay later this week.(Because it contains significant information, is well written, and not many people read the comments.) I also need your full name and any other information you care to give. Is there anything in your response you’d like me to cut out?


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