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Hillsborough County Public Schools and the Blogging Problem

hillsborough county, florida - education blogging capital of the world!

“We must have hit a nerve,” sayeth one of those Tampa-area bloggers. I believe that blogger is right.

I also believe that it won’t be long before Ms. Faliero et al. try to silence Tampa education bloggers officially, or at least try to intimidate them into submission.

I might be wrong. I hope I’m wrong.

I wrote a lengthy guest piece for the UMiami Education Students blog about Hillsborough County Schools and blogging. You can read about Jennifer Faliero foaming at the mouth about misinformation and lies on blogs – and read her call for the St. Pete Times to literally employ someone to monitor blog comments “round-the-clock.”

Oh, and she wants to “force” commenters to register in a verifiable way – and one has to assume Faliero would want that information accessible to HCPS. Good Lord, it’s almost as if she’s a union boss.

Faliero puts a panicked, high-pitched, uptalk “eeee!” in the phrase “Free press.”

Here’s are a few lines from my piece titled “Hillsborough County Schools’ Blog Problem is About Communication“:

“A [growing] segment of the Hillsborough public doesn’t trust the district. That takes time to erase. But in the meantime, trust can be built by using these channels of communication rather than complaining about them.”

It’s probably true of your district, too. I suggest you read the whole thing.

Great Links Curriculum for Tuesday, November 18

If you aren’t already following me on Twitter, you ought to start. I link to and comment on education stories ’round the clock.

And if you’re new to Twitter or aren’t sure how to get started, check out TwiTip’s 10 Easy Steps for Twitter Beginners. Give it a whirl!

Now for the Great Links… and some real stinkers that also deserve attention.

Via EIA, Andrew Sullivan and Michelle Rheetwo peas in a pod? Believe it or not, yes. I suppose even Sullivan gets to be sensible every once in a while. Blind squirrel, broken clock, etc. etc.

There aren’t too many men teaching K-12, reports Eduflack. In MA, fewer than 25% of K-12 teachers are men. And it’s everywhere, too – in April 2007 I wrote a post about male elementary teachers in NY dropping to 9%, a 40-year low. Some folks like MenTeach have been trying to raise awareness for a while now. Check them out and subscribe.

Ted Tedesco of Woodbury, Vermont is a hero. He’s worked to restore the Pledge of Allegiance in that small school district. The admins’ solution to his request is ridiculous, but at least everyone sees it. That, and a generation of kids in Woodbury knows how important it is to defend their country and their culture. As I wrote in the comments of the Core Knowledge post:

“A few months ago I attended a reunion banquet for a tiny, rural high school that closed shop during the consolidation efforts of the 1950s. Their meeting included the Pledge of Allegiance. When the Pledge came up in the agenda, all of the ~100 in attendance rose – and some with great difficulty, as they were in their 80s and 90s – to recite it.”

You know where I stand on this issue, and there’s a reason why I call the Green Mountain State “The People’s Republic of Vermont.” [Sorry, Jessie.]

Across the pond, here’s why I like the Tories. They’ve got a plan to re-introduce a bit of rigor to GCSEs and A-levels. The GCSEs in particular have been gutted – remember this physics teacher begging the government via petition to return mathematical rigor to secondary physics?

“Hot Boys”? I’d prefer that EdSector’s Quick and the Ed bloggers had a bit more self-respect. I already have trouble taking them seriously – these post titles don’t help.

Schools suing bloggers? You betcha. PRO on HCPS links to a libel case against an unhappy parent. Well, if “libel” means “a school district seething when held accountable by the public.” Guess who won? [UPDATE: PRO on HCPS gives us a better link for schools suing bloggers.]

Litigation is expensive when you’re trying to fire a teacher, administrator or school employee. In nearby Utica, NY, Craig Fehlhaber’s hearings have cost the Utica City Schools $250,000 – and counting. If Fehlhaber wins, the district will likely have to reimburse his attorney’s fees as well. We went through the same process in Cooperstown several years ago. If you ever wondered why schools tend not to dismiss bad employees, now you’ve got one reason.

Dave at ‘Friends of Dave’ – a very sharp blog, subscribe with all deliberate speed – highlights some recent irony in California. The California Association of School Business Officers have a conference at which they’ll discuss our tough economic times and how their districts can cope. And that conference is at a hotel/spa/golf course in Newport Beach. Dave has a sensible take on it all, but c’mon, CASBO. He says, “It is a bit ironic that the people who are typically the ones telling their co-workers that they can’t have an extra ream of paper are the ones having a really nice time at a Hotel and Spa on the beach.” Agreed.

Victory in Iraq Day – November 22, 2008. ZombieTime has declared 11/22/08 VI Day and I’m with him 100%. Read his post to see why it’s appropriate to declare VI Day and you’ll see why I support it, too.

“Building a GREAT teaching workforce,” described by American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence’s Dave Saba. Saba/ABCTE sing the praises – rightly – of a new report on the effectiveness of alternative certification programs.

Great Links Curriculum, Volume 1 – World Premiere!

Thank God for Google Reader. At this point, I follow ~500 blogs, view ~12,000 items a month [about 85% are education related] and highlight/distribute about 2% of those posts in a host of ways.

And then there’s the education blog…

… and Twitter, an excellent, free PR tool. If you aren’t following me on Twitter already – or using it yourself – sign up for free, check my profile and click follow. There’s always a good conversation to have or a good link to click.

That triumvirate of e-media makes it easy to do a roundup of interesting stuff I’ve read, so give a warm welcome to the world premier of the Great Links Curriculum.

The British are one baby step ahead of us in self-destruction. DailyWritingTips brings us a story from the Telegraph about banning “elitist” and “discriminatory” Latin phrases – like bona fide, vice versa and et cetera. Fancy book larnin’s a 20th century skeel, it seems.

“Why Parents Get Angry When They Learn the Truth,” from Motel Special Ed.

“Quantifying Greatness” - Greg Forster debunks an unfounded gripe about the Great Books.

Exhibit 1036a: Perfect example why normal people don’t take educrats seriously, courtesy of Salon. Really, that diagram could be drawn for just about any topic on Earth.

The Carnival of Education is up at the Core Knowledge Blog. This Carnival’s scripting took some real effort – well done.

Flypaper with some sober common sense. Want to retain great teachers? Remove the bad ones.

Obama celebrated in the World of Warcraft? Good Lord, there are so many factual errors in this testimony as to make me want to call the poor kid out. We’ll see.

Having solved every problem in New York public education, the State Education Department decided to buy a ton of fruits and vegetables.

Racial taunts in class for supporting John McCain? You betcha. This ideological intolerance happens a bit more than people realize, and sometimes – as in this case – it can get ugly.

Really, really, really, really smart to get into law school? George Leef at Phi Beta Cons drags that argument back to reality.

Head over to eMailOurMilitary and drop a quick note, even if it’s just a quick thanks.

Bill Gates?!?!? Making curriculum?!?! Relax, mouth-frothers. Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Pondiscio will calm you down.

… and another political candidate in the education world whines while laying bare her ignorance on blogs, media and technology. Advertising, too, I suppose. Well done, Ms. Gallucci of Pinellas County. Perhaps the problem isn’t your makeup or wardrobe, but the woeful inadequacy you bring to the job.

In New York State, the education budget cut spin begins. Give it a day or two, you’ll want to throw money at NYSED just to get this circus to stop.

Why Hillsborough County Schools Need Stephen Gorham – and Must Dump Carol Kurdell

Elections are rarely inflection points – especially as they relate to education – but the Tampa, FL area has one tomorrow.

Hillsborough County Schools have endured a hell of a bumpy ride – and it’s not over. More than a year ago I detailed the tension on the school board and I frequently point to Tampa-area education commentators whose knowledge, honest thought and commitment is, in my opinion, unsurpassed. NYC-area edufolks beat them with volume and vitriol, but Tampa’s got them on genuine quality. Parents, teachers, taxpayers and academic lifers lay bare their thoughts on their local schools, sometimes at significant risk. As an outside interested party, I appreciate it a great deal.

And their school board and administration largely fights them. They’ve got champions in April Griffin and Susan Valdes, but two resilient board members isn’t enough. The established, entrenched and misguided thuggery of the others is a significant hurdle for reform in Tampa.

There’s Jennifer Faliero, whose ineffective chairmanship is a parody of an iron-fisted leader – perhaps a Colonel Klink?; Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia, whose communication and leadership skills rival Lord Cardigan’s; and that series of Toadies – Jack Lamb, Doretha Edgecomb and Candy Olson – who largely fiddle while Rome burns.

But it’s Carol Kurdell who’s on the chopping block this time around. Challengers Stephen Gorham and Jason Mims showed Kurdell’s vulnerability in the primary, and now Gorham is in position to replace her tomorrow.

I’m a staunch, well-versed Conservative – change for the sake of change is unconvincing, misguided and usually detrimental. There’s a time, though, when chronic dysfunction mandates the removal of one and the installation of another.

Carol Kurdell’s tenure on the Hillsborough board has become arthritic. It’s ever-present pain and decreasing functionality that facilitates an arrogance with ignorance that has almost overcome the board.

But again, right now is an inflection point. Hillsborough can switch its direction. No more needless kerfuffles on small expenses, no more embarrassing editorials.

I’d support challenger Stephen Gorham even if he wasn’t the young, well-educated, energetic force that he is.

Kurdell can’t [and shouldn't] be blamed for most of this, but her complacency and partisan inaction – that is, unless she’s got an opportunity for partisan action – is a detrimental force on the ailing board.

That, and her third-rate dishonest politicking. That’s a turn-off, Ms. Kurdell.

If you’re in Hillsborough County, don’t get stuck voting on party affiliation in this one. The Democrats are pushing Gorham and the Republicans have approved Kurdell, but it doesn’t matter. As a registered Republican, I’m comfortable saying that Carol Kurdell is useless and that the state party has made a mistake in approving her.

And I don’t give a whit that the Dem foot soldiers are pounding pavement for Gorham. He’s the better candidate, so Godspeed.

I can’t vote in Hillsborough’s election tomorrow, but I do hope that Mr. Gorham will take his place on their school board.

Marianna, Florida Teacher and Obama’s CHANGE Message – Another Look

subtle photo, eh?

I‘m really too busy to write this, but I couldn’t let this one go. At the heart of this discussion is how journalism, especially re: education, is lacking.

The issue is a Florida teacher who wrote on the whiteboard a racially-insensitive interpretation of Sen. Obama’s mantra of “Change”:

“A Marianna middle-school teacher has been suspended for 10 days without pay after he wrote a racially charged interpretation of a commonly used phrase in the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama.

While some parents and community activists were outraged by the actions of Greg Howard, Jackson County NAACP officials want to gather more facts before the group considers taking action. But some parents feel Howard should be fired.

Larry Moore, deputy superintendent for the Jackson County School District, said school officials determined Howard wrote an acronym with an explanation on a dry-erase board in his class Sept. 26 at Marianna Middle School.

It said, “C.H.A.N.G.E. — Come Help A (N-word) Get Elected.”"

Several bloggers were quick to deride Howard. Joanne Jacobs said:

“It’s hard to imagine worse judgment than using a deeply offensive word to express political views in the classroom. What was Howard thinking?”

Mr. Russo at This Week in Education called him an “idiot teacher.”

Hube calls it “Unbelievable.” He also points out that the left routinely says equally-hateful, or at least equally-distasteful, things and gets away with it – but that’s another issue.

RightWingProf calls it “reprehensible.”

As I wrote on Joanne’s site, there may be more to this story than reported.

About 3 weeks ago I was doing a little writing and my pocket buzzed. It was a cell phone text message from an unknown NYC [212] number that said, “Obama’s CHANGE: Come Help A Nigga Get Elected!” It’s a quip that’s been making rounds electronically for some weeks now.

I wrote the following comment:

“I don’t know if anyone is aware of this, but that interpretation of “CHANGE” is, and has been for many weeks, making its rounds via cell phone text messages. I received the text a few weeks ago from a NYC-based number that I’d never seen before.

“What was Howard thinking?”

I don’t know, and I’m not about to guess. I do recognize that there’s a possibility Howard was about to introduce the translation in terms of political communication/memes and thought he’d do it provocatively.

Poor judgment and outright racism/hate aren’t the same things. The article Joanne cited doesn’t provide a bit of context about the incident. Did anyone else notice that the article mentioned nothing but Howard having written the phrase on the board?

Save the vitriol until more facts are in. You might be right anyway, but it’s better to be sure your reaction is justified. Good Lord, even the NAACP is holding off until they know more.”

Things the article didn’t bother to mention:

  • What subject did Howard teach?
  • What was the context of the incident? Were they discussing political communication or the effects of indirect, informal political processes?
  • Who brought the issue to administration and why?

I haven’t found that middle school students are appropriately knowledgeable to discuss the finer points of the political process – especially contentious, difficult things like this meme – but it’s worth knowing Howard’s intent. The article never delved into this and the blogs didn’t, either.

Like it or not, this is a message that’s getting around. It’s reality. Fruitful academic discussion includes questions like, “Why is this funny to some people?” and “To whom is this quip directed?” and “What are the risks/payoffs of these informal processes?” The meta question of “So what?” also applies.

These are questions that education journalists and bloggers of all sorts failed to ask.

I recognize that there’s a possibility that Howard was injecting this meme into class discussion. Some teachers like to be provocative; others don’t. If I had to guess, Howard failed to select something appropriate for his audience, was trying to be provocative and blew the delivery/lead-in. He failed miserably.

Think about every group we know – friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. – and ask yourself this question: Which is more common, someone using spectacularly bad judgment or someone being an overt racist in public?

If you live in the same country I do, you’ll have seen far more of the former than the latter. Howard may be a raving racist, but it’s more likely that he’s just a moron.

The newspaper portrayed the CHANGE phrase as Howard’s interpretation, Howard’s joke, Howard The Racist. The bloggers grabbed that baton, ran like hell and never looked back. No one bothered to connect the incident to anything actually happening outside Howard’s classroom. Perhaps Howard has his fingers on the political pulse [however ugly it may be] in a way that the journalists don’t.

If you’d like to argue that the phrase has no place in a middle school classroom, or that it has no academic relevance in a class about anything other than political communication, go ahead. That’s a discussion worth having – and it’s a different topic than whether Howard is a hate-monger.

I may be wrong, but as for Howard, I’d like to get all the facts before bringing down the gavel. Remember, folks: intellectual honesty comes before the castigation.

UPDATE: Right on the Left Coast is, as usual, completely sensible.

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