Why Is the State of Florida Trying to Destroy its Own Public Schools ?
This post was originally published on Florida Viewpoint on September 18, 2016, and was republished on the Badass Teachers Association blog, but was removed on September 21, 2016, because of comments about Islam I made on Facebook. I decided to go ahead and publish it on the Apple because it is still very pertinent.
An Assault that Shows No Signs of Waning
It sounds like an impossibility: the prospect of a state’s government working doggedly to destroy one of the very institutions it is charged with protecting and advancing.
Careful and deliberate consideration of legislative and executive actions over the course of the last seventeen years, however, indicate that at least two of Florida’s governmental branches are doing just that. The legislative dismantling of public education in Florida accelerated about six years ago, when the Florida legislature started enacting statutes designed to hasten the demise of Florida’s public schools, as well as the teaching profession itself. By simply ignoring political opposition and public outcry, anti-public education lawmakers have accomplished what many would have considered impossible just a decade ago.
Jeb Bush: The Granddaddy of “Accountability”
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who most recently made headlines on March 20, 2016 when he dropped out of the 2016 Republican presidential primary race after posting embarrassingly low numbers in the first three state primary contests, is the proud sire of “reform” and “accountability” in Florida. His so-called “A+ Plan for Education” set in motion a cavalcade of dubious education policy initiatives over the next 17 years that have driven public education in Florida into an abyss of neglect and deceptively brokered sabotage.
Education Corporatization and the Sacrificial Lamb
Public education has apparently become an issue where Democrats and Republicans seem to be more able than ever to agree. Many Democrats, such as presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, seemed to have tempered their opposition to corporately-driven “reform,” while artfully hedging quasi-promises to protect public education. Campaign contributions are powerful influencers. Corporate PR types have taken the science of disinformation to new heights, and have found that even a fatal disease might be peddled as a panacea.
“The Best Interests of the Children”
Grabbing the Moral High Ground as a Means to Discredit Opposition
It’s incredibly difficult to argue against people extolling the supposed virtues of a proposal when they use catchphrases like, “It’s best for the kids,” or any number of similarly worded, deceitfully expressed rationales for policy. You hear politicians and corporate education “reformers” reciting the mantra often: “We’re only trying to do what’s right for the children,” or, “This is what’s in the best interests of students.” The use of such “reasoning” to justify any governmental action is manipulative in nature and should be immediately disregarded by voters. The well-worn tactic, known as seizing the moral high ground, and disallowed in formal debates, provides the person who uses it with what is almost universally acknowledged to be an unfair means to quiet the debate altogether. It places those with an opposing view in a logical predicament that is very difficult to climb out of. Florida politicians and corporate public treasury pillagers (they call themselves “reformers”) use such phrases all the time. Aside from the audacity displayed by their presumption that such claims are appropriate, the insult to the intellect of the average voter is overt. Voters should demand details from politicians and eschew slogans and catchphrases as the tripe they are.
The Blueprint for the Destruction of Public Education
There exists a politico-corporate blueprint for the disassembly of public education. It largely has its origins, as well as its single greatest market, in Florida. The Florida C-Suite has been at this game for almost two decades. Very few of them, if any, have kids in public schools. They do have very large bank accounts, and they want them to get larger. To their delight, they have discovered the malleable nature of the Florida Constitution, as well as the reality that most voters are easily hornswoggled. The result has been a disaster for public education in Florida.
Starve the Schools
Politicians and their corporate masters borrowed their foremost tactic from the War College. When you lay siege to your enemy, the first thing you do is deprive him of resources. A starving enemy cannot offer the kind of resistance that a vibrant, well-supplied one can. Tallahassee has starved Florida’s public schools of adequate funding for longer than my memory can take me back. Politicians love to talk about “record-level” education funding. What they don’t talk about is how much of that funding goes straight into the pockets of education vendors peddling “reform” and “accountability” wares to politicians and bureaucrats without taxpayers’ knowledge. The actual schools have experienced a net loss in funding when the diversion of public money into private pockets is considered.
The state also puts crippling restrictions on the monies it sends to school districts. Categorical funds can only be used for certain purposes, and often leave districts flush with funds earmarked for purposes that they don’t need them for, while simultaneously broke of funds for the things they need.
Unions Are Evil and Unnecessary
Ever since Jeb Bush began his all-but-personal vendetta against teachers’ professional associations, an uninterrupted procession of politicians in Tallahassee has assaulted teachers’ unions as selfish accomplices to mediocrity. All unions have their problems. Teachers unions are no different. However, next to parents, no one cares more about students than their teachers. Certainly not politicians and corporate money junkies. Without a professional organization, teachers have zero defense against marauding charlatans who so often seek administrative positions and attempt to use their power to destroy the teachers they do not like. Without unions, teachers are effectively tossed out of the conversation about the enterprise that is necessarily centered around their profession. It makes zero sense to destroy teachers unions.
Tenure Makes for Mediocre Teachers
False. Since the legislature eliminated tenure for newly-hired teachers, the state of public education in Florida has only gotten worse. Teachers are fleeing the profession in droves, average career length has shrunken, and the collective voice of the profession has been all but silenced. Young teachers are opting not to join unions simply because they are afraid of retaliation. Annual contracts will, in due time, effectively put each and every teacher’s career on the chopping block each and every June. There is no other public service career with that kind of employment liability. The average level of experience of school teachers is falling rapidly because many remain on the lookout for better paying jobs that are not so inherently stressful and in which they will not be abused, and when they find them, they’re done teaching for good.
Back to that A+ Plan for Education Destruction
Since Jeb Bush created the first pillar of educational destruction, the public school-grading fiasco that haunts education to this day, his successors and their cronies have passed the mantle along, and acted in concert with one another, through seventeen years of changing standards and moving targets, depriving schools of adequate time and resources to adjust. Year after year the grading schemes have changed, the standards adjusted up and down according to projected results, and the tests upon which they based have been changed nearly as often. It has become nothing more than a farcical attack on public education designed to convince an under-informed electorate that privatization is the only answer.
Not one reliable study has shown that grading schools has improved them. Countless studies have shown that innumerable factors in the performance of students are wholly ignored in the grading of public schools. The reality is that race, ethnic and cultural background, home life, socioeconomic conditions, students’ learning abilities, not to mention students’ attitudes about their learning experiences (which are admittedly often a function of the other factors) all play a role in students’ performance. There is very little an underfunded, overcrowded public school can do to influence the personal circumstances of a student. There is even less that any overworked, overstressed, underpaid teacher can do in the same notion. School grading schemes punish schools, and consequently the teachers who work at them, for things they cannot hope to affect. The entire model is a disgrace for all involved in its advancement.
Testing, Testing, Testing
We just can’t seem to get enough of those trusty tests. Last year’s Florida Standards Assessments rollout turned out to be a fail of epic proportions. State leaders, from the Senate to the House, to the State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education, obfuscated and prevaricated, while attempting to dress a big fat pig in a Versace gown. It was a horrible, unforgettable illustration of the failure of our leaders. However, they all calculated that the public would move on, and they were largely correct. The FSA monstrosity remains.
The Opt Out movement has made notable progress against the testocracy orchestrated by the state. It has, by all accounts, posted the most favorable results of any organization in the fight against the accountability witch hunt. While some complain that it has wasted opportunities to collaborate with other grassroots movements in the resistance to top-down education policymaking, Opt Out remains the most effective citizen action organization in the state. As Opt Out expands the scope of its involvement in state education policymaking, it can take the lead in a multi-organizational fight against corporatization, and achieve a synergy of impact.
As I’ve already mentioned, the tests have changed so many times throughout the years that it might be reasonable for one to guess that knowledge itself changes as rapidly. It does not. Add to that the fact that the state was willing to issue school grades based on the results of a dubiously conceived and poorly constructed sham, above a cacophony of public protest and official opposition, and you can’t help but to conclude that the state just hates it own public schools. Seriously.
Here a Test; There a Test; Everywhere a Test Test
The FSA isn’t the only testing instrument foisted upon Florida’s students, teachers, and schools. The state has come up with an End of Course examination regimen that will ultimately have a disproportionate role and weight in the overall course of students’ school careers. Additionally, more than a few districts actually add fuel to the fire by coming up with their own tests. The goal here is to test public schools out of existence and teachers out of careers.
Tests has become so pervasive in Florida’s schools that huge portions of instructional time are wasted on testing. Even testing only a portion of a public school’s students necessarily disrupts the learning conditions and schedule of nearly every student.
Evaluation Madness: The Marzano Method
Oh, the Marzano Method. It is, in a couple of words, utter nonsense. It amounts to the deliberate, clinical dissection of classroom teaching that removes all of the human factors from the enterprise. It has never been independently verified, yet Florida’s cadre of corporate cronies find it to be the perfect vehicle to use to drive teachers into a sinkhole. Teachers’ careers depend largely on how they perform in a series of “observations” that are highly dependent on the perception of the administrator evaluating them. Teachers are also forced to adopt a professional development plan, called a “Deliberate Practice Plan,” in which they are to choose from a predetermined list of “goals” and then “monitor” their own progress. You would be hard-put to find an experienced teacher who thinks the Marzano method has any utility beyond printing it on toilet paper and wiping your ass with it. It is garbage. The evaluative protocol upon which the careers and livelihoods of thousands of teachers rests is a complete and utter sham.
The Charter School Game
The charter school push by corporate cronies and the politicians in their pockets is the precursor to a full-blown, K12 corporate for profit school industry. You might say they’re testing the water. It isn’t easy to divert billions of dollars of taxpayer money from the public treasury to private corporations right under the noses of the citizenry, so the scoundrels and hacks in Tallahassee are taking it slower than they’d like to.
Throughout their campaign to discredit public schools, the Florida Legislature has deliberately taken money away from public school districts and given it to charters. It has subjected public schools to onerous policies and regulations and has exempted charters from those same policies and regulations. It has allowed charter school owners to sit on very influential education policymaking committees and propose hateful, anti-public school legislation despite the obvious fact that they (or their family) would directly benefit from it.
And the Answer Is:
Money. The state of Florida has been unrelentingly assaulting its own public schools, not for the good of the kids, or to improve schools, or to attract better teachers, but to enable the C-Suite cronies who control Tallahassee to make money.