Yesterday I ran into Josh Katz at the Winter Park Library during early voting sign waving. He was livid when describing to me recent events at Brookshire Elementary School since the first day of the new term. He also forwarded to me some emails about the situation. What I discovered is that I don’t need to write this column because these letters are more revealing than anything I could write. I’ve withheld the writers’ names for obvious reasons:
Here are some things that were shared with me:
First, a letter to the school board, and governor:
“To whom it may concern,
What happened? What happened to our amazing school system? Where did the pride go? When did priority change from the children to the politics?
Kinesthetic, visual, auditory, anybody in education knows these learning styles. We also understand teachers are educated and experienced enough to adapt their teaching style in ways the students can benefit. Taking this into consideration, how is putting the same standardized test in front of the various students and expecting great results even justified?
How can a standardized test be considered “the way to go” if it can’t determine the events in a student’s life leading up to that test? Does that student shuffle between divorced parents? Does that student have an illness or disability? Maybe that student has pressure induced anxiety.
Maybe, just maybe, testing only determines good test takers from bad test takers. Imagine that! Brilliant minds are surrounding us in our schools yet we don’t know because the childrens success is based on their test score. Young boys and girls may be able to make the biggest difference in the world through their own unique work but are stifled before they have the opportunity to do so because they are labeled a failure in school because of a test.
Do we really judge a fish by how it climbs a tree? What happened? When did the school system begin to fall for the propaganda?
Are our children being taught curriculum that will fulfill a corporate contract? I say this because I don’t believe they are being taught the necessary skills to become successful citizens, regardless of the grade. It appears to us parents that they are being taught to pass tests. Being taught to pass or take a test does not establish critical thinking skills and the ability to troubleshoot. It sure doesn’t teach them that failure should be celebrated as a lesson learned and narrowed down the way to correction. Failing is spat on and therefore discourages that student. Imagine if failing was celebrated with a Hi Five and “OK! What now? How do we fix this?”. That is critical thinking! That is troubleshooting and learning from your mistakes! That is an opportunity to breakthrough and develop true meaning behind a lesson.
Why does it seem that the teachers are being robbed? Yes, I said it. Robbed! Robbed of so many things. Of course this includes monetary resources, assets and salaries. They are also being robbed of time. Time to teach. As if their agenda is already set down to the minute! Have you ever sat with a group of children, all with various learning styles, and tried to educate them on a single topic knowing you only have a certain amount of time to do so? I would love to know how many people on the Orange County Board of Education have ever taught under these restraints. Let our teachers teach! Let our children learn! Sure, we understand that certain standards in curriculum are necessary, but right now the teachers have on straight jackets and must not deviate off course. Heaven forbid their students not pass the test.
This school year we learned that standardized tests will be including art, music and physEd. When I heard this I was dumbfounded. Did Beethoven have a limit on his musical drive? Was he told “You won’t be successful if you do it that way. You have to do it this way to pass the test.” Did the great athletes, doctors, and biomechanics fail because of a test or were they celebrated because of a discovery or achievement. Would that achievement even exist if there were bound for standardized test based learning. Are our kindergartners and first graders really being tested in Art? This is the most preposterous thing I have heard thus far! Did Picasso or Dali have a tutorial that taught them what creativity should look like? You might as well give our children color by the number sheets. Art is meant to be explored! These children are becoming so obsessed with not failing they are forgetting what it is like to just create.
I know many, many teachers that work for the OCPS system and they all genuinely love their students and do everything within their power to educate. So if you could explain to me why weeks even days before the first day of school there are teachers quitting! Not retiring, quitting!
Shame on you Orange County Public School Board! Shame on you for allowing this atrocity you consider education to get as far as it has! Let the teachers teach! Let our students learn!
The only true failure right now is you. You are failing the parents, the students and the educators. In turn I offer you this. I offer you a Hi Five and the opportunity to think critically, troubleshoot the situation and put forth a solution. Here is your chance to learn from failure and make the correction. Here is your chance.
Second, another father at Brookshire:
“Josh, I met you outside Brookshire at Meet the Teacher last week. I commend you for being out there. I was the guy who had a catcher in high school with the last name of Katz. Anyhow, nice to meet you and you’ve got my vote. I wanted to bring something to your attention that you might not be aware of yet. As of this week, kids at Brookshire (and from what I understand all elementary schools in OCPS) are no longer given “recess” time. The reason we’ve been told is because there is no “State Standard” to evaluate this time in school. This is preposterous and something needs to be done. I’ve contacted Ms. Cadel but that didn’t go too far as I was hit with the typical political statements of how we must deal with these issues. I’m very scared that this is the start of a downward spiral for our local education system. I’m reaching out to you to just inform you as something to stand by when your speaking to the local groups of parents. Thank you and good luck!”
Third, an email from a friend:
A Brookshire parent forwarded your email address to me. I’m not sure if you have children at Brookshire, but wanted to reach out to you and make sure you know and can pass on to Mr. Katz that there are many, many parents upset and concerned with the new principal, the manner she has entered the school and the changes she has made. Josh seems to be able to make a difference and might want to campaign in the neighborhoods around Brookshire. Maybe it will make a difference with the election date so close. The parent philosophy at Brookshire is very similar or the same as his. The new principal is all about new rules without reason and has already driven off 2 excellent and proven teachers. Many believe many more teachers will follow. Ms. Cadle said at a parent meeting that any new principal would not make changes the first year until after they take the time to observe what was working at the school. The new principal has refused to meet with the parents, isn’t interested in teacher input, and has made many changes to the schedules and curriculum. She holds up the new state mandates as her reasons. Her experience both as a teacher in classrooms and as a proven administrator are nonexistent and her new assistant principal’s experience, both as a teacher and an administrator, are also lacking. A warm neighborhood community school with focus on each individual student’s needs by teachers, parents and administrators has now turned into a dictatorship by the new principal all under the excuse of the new Florida standards”.
Katz is also highly critical of the recent letter sent explaining the standards being implemented. Reading it I find it insulting to teachers too:
Here is the email sent from Jara. I feel it insulting to all teachers:
“Send comments to Dr. Jara, Superintendent of curriculum: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Florida Standards and your child – what you need to know for the 2014-2015 school yearby the Orange County Public Schools’ Curriculum Department
District and school leaders across the country spent the summer adjusting to the changes in the way we teach students. In our state, these changes are known as the Florida Standards. In some states, the term is the Common Core Standards.
The Florida Standards provide a new framework for what students are expected to know in grades kindergarten through 12. To begin with, students will move from just memorizing information to measuring application of knowledge. We can expect “growing pains” in Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) and across the state as districts work with incorporating the new standards into teaching and testing. The promise is that the new standards will improve student readiness for post-secondary paths – college and career.
In OCPS, we have implemented the standards rollout with primary grade students having been taught the new way last school year. This year, 2014-2015, we are expanding to full transition where all students in grades kindergarten through 12 will learn via the new system of delivering education
What are the Florida Standards exactly? Well, the new standards are designed to be relevant, reflecting the knowledge and skills that students need to succeed in college and careers. In education, we begin with a grade-level understanding of the skills and expand upon it as we move up in grade level and age.
For example, the literacy standards require that students become critical readers, not only of fiction, but also of informational texts. Students must show they are able to read and comprehend texts of steadily-increasing complexity as they progress through school, so that they can independently read a range of becoming critical readers and thinkers.
In mathematics, the Florida Standards are built on progressions. A basic mathematical concept introduced in kindergarten may be taught on a six-year-old level, only to grow deeper and wider as the child progresses through the grades. This is good because students have the opportunity to deeply learn math concepts through exposure, experience, and building on prior knowledge. Each grade level teacher is expected to fully develop concepts which will build upon skills the student will use in the next grade level.
Students are most successful when their learning is relevant and they are engaged in their own learning. The new Florida Standards offer an exciting way to value relevant and rigorous learning — the kind that truly motivates students to become learners and leaders. The 21st century skills of critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication are interwoven into the standards. When students experience relevancy in what and how they are learning, the results are far superior to a student stuck in a classroom of uninteresting topics and a non-meaningful way of presentation of the material to be learned.
Take a look at what to expect in English-Language Arts:
· Increased volume of reading for students providing a good mix of literary and informational text
· Explicitly teach the foundation of the Florida Standards skills in grades kindergarten through 2
Take a look at what to expect in Mathematics:
· Rather than covering topics in a “mile-wide and inch-deep” curriculum, the new standards are narrow and deep to build a strong foundation of math skills and concepts
· Increased rigor, increased attention to being precise, and emphasis on persistence in completing math problems
· Students will be asked to explain their thinking in solving math problems
The philosophy of Florida Standards rests on the fact that the United States is seeking to allow our students to compete in a global marketplace.”
This reform drivel has got to stop. Brookshire has been lost for at least this season and parents are up in arms. This proud Winter Park school has been reduced to tears by an uncaring superintendant, a new principal who is not up to the job and a school board that can’t tell its posterior from a ditch, especially Joie Cadle who supports the reform agenda 100% without understanding its unintended consequences. Josh just sent me another email which will break your heart:
I just got this message on Facebook just now:
“I am a teacher at Brookshire and a resident in School District 1. We need more people like you to be our voice. I teach 3rd grade and you can guess how high the stakes are for our little people. Monday I witnessed one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life. Our retained 3rd graders spent their time on the play ground sobbing because “they had failed.” One little girl could barely talk and kept saying, “they all know, they all know”. I couldn’t bear to watch because of fear of breaking down in tears myself. Thank you for being the voice for us and our students. We need a few yard signs. How can we get four?”
We can’t fire Barbara Jenkins until we elect people like Josh Katz and Regina Hellinger to the School Board. We can’t allow people like Joie Cadle to damage our kids ever again. In 2016 at least three incumbents must go!