Borrowing from the saying of my mentor, Ira J. Paul, and as rightly inferred by T. Willard Fair in his recent op-ed in The Miami Herald, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which prides itself in its motto of “giving our students the world” is giving our students what a reasonable person may conclude, especially in School Board Districts 1 and 2, the shaft.
Mr. Fair details the “what” in his article and proposes a solution, but he does not address the “why” as this article will do just that.
The “what” is that the schools of School Board Districts 1 and 2 have the least experienced teachers and the least “highly effective” teachers than the schools of other School Board Districts.
Mr. Fair is correct in referring to this as an injustice and a problem, but to fix this problem requires more than involuntary transfers as he suggests – which would do more harm than good.
However, he should keep in mind that while he was on the State Board of Education, that body and the FLDOE encouraged, as part of Jeb Bush’s A+ Plan and No Child Left Behind, involuntary transfers at failing schools.
As a result, verified by my own experience, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and principals at Miami Central Senior High School and Miami Norland Senior High School (as well as at other Zone/ETO schools) targeted outspoken veteran teachers and replaced them with new teachers (primarily Teach For America teachers; or as former UTD president Karen Aronowitz termed them “Teach For Awhile” teachers) so as to have a submissive, compliant workforce that would not dissent.
As someone who has worked full-time various instructional positions in both School Board Districts 1 (8 years) and 2 (6 years), I can readily identify the problems through my insightful knowledge based on experience as I was transferred from both schools for those very reasons.
In conversation over the years, I heard assistant principals at Norland gloat that they liked TFA teachers as “they will do whatever we want.”
Never mind that Ceresta Smith was an activist that obtained a $10,000 Michael Jordan grant that brought Dwayne Wade to Norland and money for FCAT instruction and that she was a National Board Certified Teacher; she had to go as she spoke out against questionable curriculum decisions and numerous contractual violations as I had to go for exposing massive test cheating known as Adobegate.
Numerous teachers like Ceresta and I were moved out under “the best interests of the District” clause of the Contract as apparently it is in the best interest of Miami-Dade County Public Schools for teachers to be quiet and fearful and not to speak out for the best interests of their students or to expose standardized test cheating.
Since her departure three years ago, Norland has not had a National Board Certified Teacher or an English teacher of her caliber at Norland who brought in grants and motivational speakers for our students.
Since my departure last October, the Library Media Center has been closed, students visited me at Crestview telling me they cannot check out books whatsoever, and as a result (perhaps alongside little to no cheating given increased oversight) FCAT Reading scores declined three points.
During my tenure at Norland, FCAT Reading scores went up consistently; how is removing me, other than to keep Norland teachers quiet, to the detriment of the students and their right to read, in “the best interests of the District?”
Besides TFA teachers who have a two year commitment with an already accepted slot at a graduate school somewhere in conjunction with the payoff of their student loans after their tenure at M-DCPS, who would want to work at schools like Central and Norland where you are forced to compromise your ethics and morals and are denied liberty of conscience?
District and Norland actions sends what a fair-minded person may assume is a warped message to the students they purport to serve: the honest school librarian cannot serve them in the Library Media Center at Norland, but Mrs. Brenda Muchnick can teach them business education even though she was suspended for her part in Adobegate while her colleague, Mr. Emmanuel Fleurantin, was fired for doing the exact same thing.
Mr. Fair, and others, need to realize we need to have honest and ethical school principals and value teachers based on merit and willing to highlight curriculum and contractual flaws as opposed to the status quo that disdains the outspoken veteran teacher who knows best in favor of the compliant warm body that sees, hears, and speaks no evil who rides off into the sunset two years later to graduate school and a different career path.
Of course, Miami-Dade County Public Schools is in denial and highlights so called “improved graduation rates” as proof that their detrimental policies and hardline against outspoken veteran teachers are working.
Upon closer inspection, a reasonable person may conclude that these graduation rates do not hold muster and are indeed funny math.
Think about it: Norland has never cracked beyond 30% proficiency on the FCAT Reading exam- a graduation requirement; that being the case, how can there be a graduation rate of over 80%?!
Miami-Dade County Public Schools and their messengers must think people are really stupid.
The answer lies in the ever shrinking senior class as explained in USDOE graduation rate guidelines.
Norland always had a sophomore class (FCAT exit exam class) of between 400-500 students during my tenure, with Grade 10 FCAT Reading scores being between 14-30% during my time (2007-2013) there.
For the sake of the argument, apply the highest Grade 10 FCAT Reading score, 29%, to 400 students, with the answer being 116 students passed the test give or take.
That is the baseline for the graduation rate for that graduating class two years later.
According to the USDOE guidelines, if members of that class transfer, die, or leave the country, the graduation rate is not affected- meaning, if students cannot pass the FCAT and go to a private school without the FCAT requirement, the school is not penalized:
“Compared to other measures of graduation rates, the ACGR (adjusted cohort graduation rate) is considered the most accurate measure available for reporting on-time graduation rates (Seastrom et al. 2006b). A 4-year ACGR is defined as the number of students who graduate in 4 years with a regular high school diploma divided by the number of students who form the adjusted cohort for that graduating class. The term “adjusted cohort” means the students who enter grade 9 plus any students who transfer into the cohort in grades 9–12 minus any students who are removed from the cohort because they transferred out, moved out of the country, or were deceased (34 C.F.R. § 200.19.” (Page 8).
Thus, Norland (and other schools) were rewarded as the graduation rates went up as the results were incorporated into the School Grades which resulted in the Federal and State performance incentives that were paid out.
Suppose the same 116 students who passed the FCAT and are cleared to graduate stay at Norland over the next two years but 200 students who cannot pass the FCAT or the new FSA exams transfer their credits to a private school in their junior and senior year to graduate-that leaves the class with a total of 200 students and the graduation rate skyrockets to 58%.
Further student departure would only increase the rate only if the students who passed the FCAT or the FSA exams stayed.
It is very legal but very misleading, and I know of a Norland faculty member who had children at the school that could not pass the FCAT take advantage of this loophole so they can graduate and go to college on academic scholarships.
When I was at Miami Central about ten years ago, I knew of students who could not pass the FCAT that went to a private school; they transferred in their credits, spent a few months there, graduated, and went to a community college in Minnesota to play football.
More food for thought: quantity. I remember the large graduation classes that Miami Central and Norland use to have, about 300- 500 some odd students. Funny with these current unprecedented graduation rates over the past four years, graduating classes at Central and Norland have been less than 200 students.
That’s funny Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ math for you, and it’s a system that rewards failure as astronomical graduation rates are being obtained simply by a whittling down of a given senior year class via student transfers to private schools for purposes of graduation to evade the FCAT and the soon to be new Florida Standards Assessments.
Congress and/or the USDOE should revise the graduation rate criteria to eliminate this deception and count student transfers against a school’s graduation rate if they graduate from private schools with little to no accountability as they could not pass the FCAT exam at a public school with accountability.
Furthermore, the Florida Legislature should regulate private schools and only allow them to award a valid state-recognized diploma only if their students can pass the mandated state assessments or an equivalent nationally recognized exam like the ACT or SAT to gauge student learning and progress.