Dear Gov. DeSantis: the Corcoran/Stargel/DoE VAM-pire is back, sucking teacher and student blood as always

Dear Gov. DeSantis: I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you don’t know anything about VAM. I’m going to bet that Richard Corcoran did not explain it to you when he talked you into putting him and his handful of teacher-hating grifters in charge of the biggest portion of our state government.

That’s yet another reason you should have called me first.

In any event, take a look at this:

This is the absurd equation that your administration uses for Florida’s version of VAM, the so-called “value added model.” It grades teachers through test scores and a bunch of other incomprehensible nonsense inputs. For branding purposes, I’m going to call it Corcoran/Stargel-VAM. They still own it. And if they own it, you do too. Until you don’t.

A terrible Democratic idea Republicans couldn’t wait to adopt

The VAM concept actually started with Democrats and the “liberal” wing of the bipartisan corporate “education reform” grift that has dominated public education for a generation.

VAM was then quickly discredited, years ago, basically everywhere. Here’s a link to a 2014 article (2014!!!!) from the American Statistical Association saying in an institutional way that it’s insane and immoral to use VAM in any “high stakes” decision. 2014. That’s from 2014. 2014. Let me say that again. 2014.

Unfortunately, Florida’s backward Department of Education, House speaker-turned-Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, and Senator Kelli Stargel couldn’t wait to adopt this terrible liberal Democratic idea — the worst kind of big government social engineering. In Florida, Republican education leaders always adopt the worst ideas of “liberal reformers” years after they’ve been discredited.

I bet you didn’t know that either, governor.

Florida’s Corcoran/Stargel VAM insanity peaked two years ago, when Corcoran and Senator Stargel — through DoE — used it to force tons of teachers to transfer out of so-called “turnaround” schools (another terrible idea for another time). The result was replacement with subs for much of the year. Here’s a good rundown of how sociopathic that was and how much human damage it caused. 

The Corcoran/Stargel VAM story was so absurd that even Tallahassee looked to de-emphasize it. Two sessions ago, it told local districts they no longer needed to make Corcoran/Stargel VAM the core of teacher evaluation. Local “merit” pay does not depend on Corcoran/Stargel VAM anymore. But Corcoran/Stargel VAM still lives, sort of. That’s why I dressed up as a Corcoran/Stargel VAM-pire two Halloweens ago — to illustrate that it’s an undead blood sucker.

The fangs come out on the Friday before school starts

Here’s the thing, governor: your DoE still calculates a Corcoran/Stargel VAM based on this equation for every Florida teacher with a subject tied to testing.

And your appointee Corcoran — the guy who talked you into all of this — has decided that teachers whose state VAM score isn’t high enough can’t teach kids in certain core tested subjects in so-called “turnaround schools.” That’s a condition of turnaround plans that your Board of Education has to approve.

Put aside how stupid that is for a second and consider this: according to my district, the state did not release this VAM score until Friday, yesterday, the last Friday before school starts.

Let me repeat that. Your teacher-hating Education Commissioner did not tell anyone what their VAM score was last year until hours before close of business on the last day of the summer break for kids. That meant classrooms already set up and aligned to specific kids had to be torn down and remade or relocated. Kids who met one teacher at orientation on Thursday will now meet a different teacher on Monday.

Here’s the statement I received from our Supt. Jackie Byrd Friday afternoon when I inquired about this:

It is never the intent to disrupt any classroom or upset a teacher however, the 18-19 VAM was just recently released. For schools with a school grade of D, teachers with an unsatisfactory rating cannot remain in a tested/core subject area.

This morning we met with the principals along with the DOE staff where this was explained. The principal was informed that the teacher is to receive two days for classroom relocation.

If there is anything inaccurate in that about DoE’s timing, I trust DoE will correct it.

I inquired with Supt. Byrd in response to the specific experience of Dixieland Elementary, one of my favorite Polk schools, which I would choose for my own child if I was starting over again as a parent. Dixieland missed being a “C” by 1-point on the fraudulent grade scale last year.

That was enough for DoE to order relocation of three teachers on the Friday afternoon before school starts on Monday. And whether or not the teachers had two days to relocate and re-set up their rooms, the rooms themselves could not be cluttered with the detritus of a move on Monday when kids need to sit in them. So the staff at Dixieland, rather than planning for Monday, took it upon themselves Friday, long after their contract time, to help with moves. They called me; and I came to help, too.

And they needed help. Because moving meant toting heavy stuff. It’s not casual work. It’s hard physical labor. See below.

Books are heavy. Carts don’t go up steps. And dolly wheels were flat.

What leadership means

Governor, I’m going to pivot away from you for second to talk to the leaders in the Polk District.

VAM is not your fault. The timing of this is not your fault. And I know you work hard. I don’t question that. I don’t even think we’re “top-heavy” as the phrase goes. Running a district of 105,000 kids requires tremendous administrative attention and grind. You’re not going to get every situation right.

We have five regional superintendents who oversee school-based operations. All of our schools report up to one of them. I like all of the regionals. I think I work reasonably well with them. Again, I know they work hard. And I will hasten to add that the district tried to cushion the blow of this VAM-piring by restricting the teacher transfers to within schools rather than displacing teachers from the schools entirely, which happened in the past. Displacement may still happen, as I understand it; but the district is trying to avoid it. That’s all good work.

However, every single one of our five regionals, plus whatever other senior leaders would have been required, should have dropped what they were doing, driven to the schools in question, and delivered this news in person.

Then, if the staff chose to start moving stuff, they should have picked up books and started schlepping. One of them should have hugged and comforted the teacher weeping with self-doubt and fear for her job that I hugged and comforted. It’s not like we have a line of people waiting to take her place. We need her. And she wants to be here. And I believe in her; just like I believe in Dixieland.

If those regionals had vital work to complete for the first day of school, they should have gone back after the move to their offices and finished it. Or worked on it over the weekend. That’s why we pay them three times as much money as the teachers toting the heavy curriculum materials. I’m working on the weekend to explain all this. Teachers and principals will be working on the weekend; I guarantee it.

I can’t speak for what happened at other schools; but there was no district leadership presence at Dixieland Friday afternoon. There was a district reading coach, who happened to be at Dixieland, who did drop everything she was doing to help tote stuff. She worked her butt off in a dress and heels in blazing August heat. I thank her for it.

Too often in leadership, pain rolls downhill until it stops with the poor sucker on the bottom who eats it. This is why people in the organization are skeptical of a chief of staff. Solidarity and shared sacrifice matters in leadership. A lot.

Go ask your commissioner about Corcoran/Stargel VAM, governor

Back to you, governor.

You’ve shown a pretty acute political sense in everything not related to education. But education is big, big, big. And that’s why the Corcoran thing is such a mystery to me. I think it comes down to what ails most of the American leadership class in its thinking about education. You’re just clueless about the on-the-ground realities of it.

Why you let Corcoran convince you that people in Duval — a crucial swing county that is getting bluer — wanted to get rid of their right to elect School Boards or repair their crumbling schools is beyond me. That’s a terrible fight for you and that ridiculous mayor.

This VAM thing, like every other discredited teacher-hating idea your DoE clings to, is a micro-level political disaster that I am going to wrap around anyone who is responsible for it as long as I can. To say nothing of the moral and morale disaster. Maybe you get away with that because of political tribalism; maybe you don’t. Why take the risk?

Go make that dude who mesmerized you into backing the least popular possible education policies tell you why VAM-piring is awesome. And then give me a call. I’ll tell you how to be a hero. I’m always available. 863-209-4037.

 

5 comments

  1. Stephanie Yocum

    State VAM scores are also being used to award the Corcoran Bogus Bonus Money (UniSIG 20 Grant). The Florida Education Association, our state affiliate, predicts that less than 1% of teachers will actually see the top bonus money of $15,000 (highly effective VAM) and $7500 (effective VAM), and those teachers must teach in a high needs school determined by their fraudulent getting system. Our Legislature and the DOE want to blow their horns saying, “Look how much money we’re giving to these districts!” Too bad it’s all bonus money with strings attached that are out of the teachers’ control. It also doesn’t give salary increases to give relief to all our folks.

  2. Patricia Kurtz

    Well said. As a recently retired teacher, I thank you for your honestly and directness with the “powers that be.” The PCSB and it’s employees are honored to have you on their side.

  3. Maria Lindquist

    Very well said and oh so true. We also need to talk about the unfunded mandate for teachers to get a reading endorsement. Five classes in one year without extra pay. I already work 10-12 hour days plus several hours on the weekend. (Just got home from school a few minutes ago after spending several hours in my unairconditioned classroom). Then, spend $75 on adding the endorsement to my certificate. Not sure I can continue. You can only take so much. After 37 years, it may be time to move on. My heart is heavy.

  4. Keep fighting! Keep exposing! Thank you for your work!

  5. Sharing in Louisiana. Just when you think it couldn’t be any worse, you look at another State and – it’s worse. I don’t doubt though that whatever’s in the reform clogged air there will blow this way. Hang in there.