The Florida Education Three-Ring Circus

A Cornucopia of Pure Bullshit

Recently, I’d been trying to put together a post about the usual cast of characters in our legislature and the FLDOE, and how their stewardship of the FSA implementation last week obliterated any doubt regarding their ability to muck things up, when I had a mishap and dumped quite a bit of stuff I had written. Unfortunately, I just haven’t had the time to get the rewriting done, and a lot of the material, having been written in real time during recent education debacles, became rather stale, or at least in need of being reframed.

Likewise, I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with living lately and haven’t had a lot of time to check the news for the latest morsels of administrative artifice and general stupidity in education policymaking for several days. I’m glad I checked today. It looks like there’s a few things worth mentioning.

The ongoing state policy circus led by ringmasters Legg and Crisafulli continues to dazzle spectators, if for no other reason than the astonishing fact that the charlatans running things seem to have an almost mythical ability to somehow escape being held accountable for their dogged pursuit of the privatization of public schools. Their audacity is jaw-dropping. The results though, will eventually bear the fruit of truth, and their legacies will be less than glowing.

Browning Calls Out the State

Kurt Browning deserves a round of applause for a rare act of true leadership by publicly calling out the Florida DOE last week. Browning publicly trashed the FLDOE’s handling of the FSA roll out and insinuated in remarks to Jeff Solochek of the Gradebook blog that the architects of the roll out might not be worthy of their lofty positions. Browning, in an apparent fit of frustration, vented to Jeff Solochek of the Gradebook blog at Tampabay.com about how how he didn’t have the luxury of overseeing a clusterfuck like the FSA roll-out while he was Pasco County Supervisor of Elections. According (correctly) to him, you only get one chance to get an election right and if you don’t, “They’d be looking for a new supervisor.” Unfortunately for him and us, the Florida Standards Assessment isn’t an election; it’s a fucked-up attempt to impugn teachers, pure and simple.

Crisafulli the Cretin

Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, on the other hand, threw all sensitivity in the garbage last week when he deflected a question about the possibility of scaling back or even suspending the testing circus. He declared, “We will not retreat from accountability!” This guy can’t even answer a direct question. Instead, he offers some sort of far-right corporate school reform battle cry. He’s a utter disgrace to American democracy.

Legg and Scott and Crisafulli, sensing that they had a potential revolt by parents on their hands, made a big deal about making changes to testing rules and their implications for the evaluation of teachers and schools over the last few weeks, but their actions are really just window dressing for their true agenda, which they go to great lengths to keep well-concealed from the public: the steady, orchestrated strangulation of public education in Florida by all means available.

Pam Stewart the Patsy

With a virtual avalanche of reasons bearing down upon her to postpone the testing , Pam Stewart stayed the course nonetheless, and created a massive statewide embarrassment for the rest of the country to laugh at. Again. Listening to these politicians try to justify their illogical, dogma-driven decisions is truly bewildering. They literally ignore reality in pursuit of their agenda. How can you deal with people like that? All the time and energy and money that went, and is going, into the administration of the FSA achieved absolutely nothing. All that, just to figure out a way to evaluate teachers out of their careers. Anyone even remotely associated with the implementation of the FSA needs to be sent packing. These people are all hacks. Pam Stewart, for her part, sounds like a mere mouthpiece for somebody else when she talks. She’s obviously reading from a script prepared by, or written in conjunction with, Tricky Ricky and his crony allies running the legislature.

Dogma as Data

I could throw facts and figures around here, but what’s the point? All the data points to one overriding fact: the people overseeing public education in Florida are either a bunch of block-headed idiots, or they have an agenda so deeply embedded in their governing psyches that they are unable to restrain themselves from publicly attempting to destroy the very institution they are charged with fostering.

The good news is that parents are starting to realize that you can’t allow money-hungry politicians to pick on teachers for too long before you’re complicit in trashing your own kids’ education. The Opt-Out movement is encouraging to see. It’s not a moment too early, as state meddling in education by completely out of touch politicians has nearly suffocated Florida public schools altogether. Florida public school students learn in spite of the state’s ill-conceived mandates, not as a result of them.

The Florida Testing Clusterfuck

Since its inception in Florida under Jebbyboy I-Wanna-Be-President Bush, high-stakes testing in Florida has been a grand pageant of deception. It is designed to discredit public education in general, and to destroy teaching as an economically viable profession, while simultaneously fostering “competition” via charter schools. Once public education is essentially privatized, a large portion of the money currently earmarked for teacher salaries will suddenly become part of the profit margin. In order to derive a profit from for-profit educational enterprise, you have to skim the money from somewhere. With pitifully paltry funding being pretty much the rule throughout the entire history of public education in Florida, there is no other area of any hypothetical budget from which to take profit, except the salaries of teachers. Just look at what private school teachers make now. Private school teachers, except those who are fortunate enough to work at the most exclusive schools, make considerably less than public school teachers with comparable experience, and public school teachers in Florida are already paid pathetic salaries. That is incontrovertible fact. Add to that the fact that private school teachers often have no benefits, and it paints a scary picture for teachers in the corporate reform view of the future of education in Florida. Unless these same cronies are able to convince property owners to pay a much higher millage rate, or are able to establish additional revenue streams to feed their edu-money lust, their profit will have to come from the salaries of teachers. The icing on the cake, of course, is no job security. Teachers, under a paradigm envisioned by the far right, will have no job security at all. Instead, they will all face possible release for no cause every year. The con artists who fought to eliminate tenure for teachers try to downplay the implications of such a development. They say good teachers don’t need to worry about their jobs. That’s another load of bullshit. Administrators who simply don’t like a particular teacher for one reason or another will have the power to lord over the teacher’s career, or even release the teacher, with no cause whatsoever. What other public sector profession faces that kind of annual hazard?

NOTE TO STATE: Let’s see how many people even want to teach in about ten years, you bunch of dumbasses.

An Aside on Florida’s Charter School Chaos

The legislature is attempting to get their charter school experiment under control. There have been more than a few embarrassing charter school fiascoes over the past few years, and our trusty lawmakers aim to address the problem with more meaningless window dressing. Recent history shows us that charter schools often present more problems for districts than they can hope to solve. Financial insolvency has been a recurring problem. I cannot see how any viable system can be based on their pitifully poor example. More than a few school districts have had to bail out or take over charters, or at least clean up the mess when they go belly up and skedaddle out of town. By even considering charters as a worthwhile endeavor, scam artists in the legislature, the governor’s office and the FLDOE are abdicating their oath to serve the people. Just another disgrace. If our legislators are serious about holding charter schools accountable, we will soon see that they are indeed nothing more than a mirage, and that in the end, a complete and utter waste of time.

Back to Testing

The FCAT tests, and the means of scoring them, have changed nearly every year since they were first administered. Indeed, the formulas used for grading schools, based on ever-changing tests, have themselves been changed numerous times since the system was first devised. This is what happens when you attempt to reverse engineer a test and evaluation method in order to achieve a predetermined outcome. Florida has rendered itself an abject mockery of education administration. To call our state a model for the nation is absolute fucking insanity. The absurd thing is, there was never any need for the tests in the first place. They’ve been a big waste of time, money, and resources from the start, all for politicians to look like they care about education.

I read a lot about education policy. As far as I can determine, virtually everyone with any knowledge of the issue whatsoever says testing students as a means to evaluate teachers is an inaccurate and unfair practice. Yet the Repuglicans press on. You see, they really don’t give a hoot about accuracy or fairness. They simply want the money to start flowing from the treasury to their buddies’ pockets. Once it’s in full flow, there’ll be plenty of opportunities for kickbacks and quid pro quo schemes that, in a state as crony-infested as Florida, will largely escape the scrutiny of the increasingly ignorant and government-dependent electorate. These guys are pros, and they want the money.

The tests have been nothing more than a monumental effort to legitimize the campaign to marginalize teachers and secure the treasury for private schools. They have been shown to be invalid; that is inarguable. The proponents of testing rely on the enforced silence of teachers to avoid close scrutiny of the tests and all the mucked-up ways the state uses the “data” to “drive” policy. So-called “data-driven” policy making is great if it’s based on real data. In education in Florida, that’s just not the case. The data derived from the FCAT in Florida during the last 15 years is just a bunch of pure bullshit.

Jebbyboy’s Miseducation Franchise

Originally, Jebbyboy latched onto education as an issue because there was virtually no downside to the strategy. Public education was, at the time, a pretty accurate reflection of American society in general. Not so anymore. All the kids have to succeed now. Gone is the acceptance that that some will invariably choose to fail, just as people do in life. Gone is the acknowledgement that some kids are just not college material. (That’s another post). Gone is the extension of trust to the teacher by the public, or the age old concept of the benefit of the doubt when teachers come under fire. The advent of the FCAT brought us fifteen years of unmitigated bullying by the state of its own public education system, a campaign that has culminated in near complete centralization of education policy making in Florida. Home rule is gone. Now, all but impotent school boards and superintendents consume themselves with jumping through an endless course of flaming hoops put in front of them by the state. They act as conduit from the Great State Above, often adding insult to injury by piling-on with their own ostentatious attempts to massage their urge to govern something. How many districts actively attempt to minimize stress on overloaded teachers and schools? I’ve not heard of any. Certainly not the Pasco Fiasco.

By using education as a franchise issue, Bush enlisted legions of well-meaning but misinformed parents of school kids in his cause to get elected. He offered the answer to their problems: Public schools suck, and public school teachers are even worse. If we can whip public schools and teachers into compliance, we can usher in a Utopian age of prosperity and happiness for all! The mere fact that it amounted to an assault on an entire profession was of no import at the time. It got votes for JebbyBoy and saved money at the same time. Fifteen years later Jebbyboy’s true legacy is happening in real time, right before our eyes. The FSA spectacle has its roots in Jeb Bush.

Hopefully, parents will begin to understand how much damage these public education-bashing frauds are doing, and act to restore balance to the relationship between the public and the people who teach its children. If they don’t, I believe we are not far from some extreme consequences, like a dearth of teaching candidates, for example. I see no good reason now to consider entering the teaching profession. There is nothing attractive about it. If I weren’t too far in, I would leave. Just as soon as I am able to leave, I will. Unlike what politicians would have the public believe, teachers are humans too. We don’t aspire to be publicly abused as a condition of employment. Right now, the general mood in teaching is “Keep your head down until you can get the hell out of here.” That’s it in a nutshell. 

So, no conclusions here, except that Legg and Crisafulli and Scott and Stewart are all still greedy power mongers who yearn for the day when there is no such thing as public education in Florida.

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