Our first referendum on the hateful Florida model, part 1: Stargel and Stewart are the Florida educational establishment

When I search for a single word to define Florida’s education system since 1998, I keep coming back to “hateful.”

Everything about it is built around hatred of its core stakeholders. Its policies are designed to hurt the people of traditional zoned schools and force them to choose “choice” schools of some kind, whether they be charter, voucher, magnet, or whatever. It’s designed to use the compulsory education requirement to discredit the idea of public education — and enable new businesses.

It’s designed to chase people out of the teaching profession by pushing them out of the middle class and making their work experience miserable. Maybe the people imposing this model think they will replace them with cheap computers for the masses, who don’t need health insurance. But mostly, I think it’s enough for them to see public education as a welfare program they should destroy. What comes next? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Not their problem.

Despite that cruel, mindless generational policy approach from Tallahassee and Washington, our teachers and stakeholders on the ground have held public education together. They have continued to create meaningful experiences for our kids and rallying points for our communities. They’ve done it for my children; and I am grateful to them.

They have suffered to do it; and sadly, as political stakeholders and voters, we have not had their backs for a generation. We’ve let them suffer, largely in silence.

The first referendum

That’s why I don’t see Gillum vs. DeSantis as some lame referendum on Bernie vs. Trump. I see it, instead, as the first, imperfect referendum on the Florida Model and the entire idea of test-punish-hate-fake compete-cheat education. There will be many more.

We champions of humane, meaningful education are ascendant. And we’re not backing up. The turgid educational establishment of a generation in Florida and America is losing the battle for ideas — because they have none. They only have fake data, subsidized think tank magazines, and vanity. They offer only pain and lies. That’s why they were so desperate to sneak Amendment 8 on the ballot. It was a rear guard action to protect their dying grift.

This first referendum in Florida is not as clear as I would like because Democrats, for some strange reason, still lack the will to simply say: “End test-and-punish education.”

They lack the will to talk and explain the way I do to truly mobilize what should be their core constituency — teachers and public education stakeholders. Most people in Florida still don’t understand the full reality and consequences of test-and-punish education. That’s why I spend so much time and repetition explaining to them.

The national teacher shortage should be Democrats’ number 1 domestic issue, like “law and order” is for Republicans. They should never stop talking about it. But it’s not; and they don’t talk about it at all, really, as the core political, infrastructure, and middle class imperative that it is.

Even in the powerful red state teacher revolts, teachers themselves led the revolts, not politicians. Teachers will have to lead it in Florida, too, this year. But one day, some state or national politician is going to run relentlessly on a simple message, “I will end test-and-punish education. And I will rebuild the teaching profession.” That politician will win.

The cruel, indifferent faces and voices of the Florida model

For now, even with those institutional Democratic shortcomings, Andrew Gillum is infinitely better than Ron DeSantis for teachers and public education stakeholders. And Bob Doyel is on a different planet than your Senator Kelli Stargel, who has never met a plan to hurt educators and kids she did not embrace. She’s never met a teacher shortage she didn’t try to make worse.

If you’re a public education stakeholder in any way, in any party, a vote for Kelli Stargel — like any vote for the creators and operators of the Florida Model — is an act of self-mutilation.

Indeed, no two people more embody this generation of hateful, spiteful attitude toward the human beings of education than Stargel and Rick Scott’s Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

And for the first installment of this series, we’re just going to take a video tour of greatest hits from Stargel and Stewart — and the state Board of Education. Just to remind you how much personal contempt they have for all of us.  Watch these videos and feel it.

“…you guys are going to have to deal with that.”

This fist clip comes from a few months back, when I asked Stargel if she would attend a School Board meeting this past spring. In that meeting, we had to address her mandate to close, destroy, or turnover to private hands several of our schools because of their fraudulent school grades. I came to call this list of schools “the Kelli Stargel school kill list.” Full background and discussion here.

Here’s the core of my exchange with Stargel:

“I do not plan to be there,” Stargel said.

“You do not plan to attend, to stand by your own laws?” I asked.

“It’s not a matter of our own laws,” Stargel said. “I don’t plan to attend because that’s a school board issue and you guys are going to have to deal with that.”

It was literally a matter of her laws. And she did not show up. She never does.

Don’t interrupt Pam Stewart’s lunch to talk about the Teacher Shortage

By now this video is infamous for Florida education stakeholders. But it still gets better — or worse — every time I watch it.

Bottom line, Pam Stewart has been dodging questions for a year about rigged teacher tests that are helping drive the teacher shortage. Reporter Katie LaGrone finally corners her. What happens next is one of the most spectacular fits thrown by a so-called leader I’ve ever seen. Stewart issues multiple angry complaints about LaGrone interrupting her lunch. I’ve know many 8-year-olds with greater poise and self-possession.

I think my favorite part is how triumphant Stewart feels about getting LaGrone to say “I’m interrupting your lunch.” It’s a beautiful display of the utter cluelessness of unaccountable power.

Watch the whole thing — or fast forward to the end if you want to see Stewart do her thing.

If Pam Stewart, Florida’s top education official, has apologized to the public or even addressed her behavior in any way, I haven’t seen it. Shows you what kind of person she is.

“Jackie Byrd, this is gonna be fun.”

And this is very typical behavior for the entire Board of Education/Department of Education apparatus.

Consider how Florida Board of Education member Gary Chartrand treated then interim Polk Superintendent Jackie Byrd at a summer 2016 BoE meeting. At the time, the BoE was gutting multiple Polk middle schools with forced teacher transfers based on this test-score equation, known as VAM. Kelli Stargel was the key Legislative champion of VAM.

VAM has since been dropped by the Legislature as a mandatory thing because it was discredited way back in 2012 or so by everybody else in the country. Florida is always a late comer to terrible ideas. But it still lingers in teachers’ record of performance, which is costing them money and discouraging them from working in challenging environments today.

Chartrand, in 2016, thought all of this was “fun.” Really. Listen to him say on a hot mike.

I was a School Board candidate at the time, and someone brought this “fun” video to my attention. I publicized it; and state behavior toward Jackie Byrd eventually improved, although the human and policy damage was already done.

When Billy met the BoE

A few weeks later in 2016, I took a vacation day from my job to attend the BoE meeting in Tampa. I asked Gary Chartrand face-to-face what he considered “fun” about all this. He hemmed and hawed and then half-shouted “Give me a break” and walked off.

I had attended the BoE meeting because my son’s school was literally on the agenda. It was in the next batch of Polk “turnaround” schools. It was on the future hit list if it didn’t “improve” from D-to-C. I signed up to speak so I could tell the BoE about actual human impact of their actions — and that I did not want that done to my son’s school. I went there to insist that they respect my choice — and the choices made by the parents of my son’s schoolmates.

An hour or so before I was supposed to speak, the BoE took my son’s school off the agenda. And here’s what happened when I went to speak. Note the condescension. And the bouncer. And the contempt for my choice.

Servant leadership in action.

One hears often about the opinions of “high skill, high wage” parents concerning public education in Polk County — and elsewhere. Economic developers talk about it all the time. Well, I am a high-skill, high-wage parent; and the BoE still had nothing but contempt for me. Trust me, you’re not special enough for them to care about you, if you choose a traditional neighborhood school.

Kelli Stargel and Pam Stewart’s “educational situation”

Finally, let’s wrap this up with a visceral view of the human consequences for children of this behavior.

Here’s the background: like 2016, Polk was ordered in 2017 by some detached bureaucrat in Tallahassee to forcibly transfer several dozen teachers from about a dozen schools — after the 2017-18 school year started — because of their VAM score.

Our district leaders obeyed — without really consulting the School Board. I think we should have considered saying no and facing the consequences. But I didn’t raise enough hell about it to be effective. That’s my fault. And so these young women came to our School Board meeting to tell us about the human effects of our state government’s thuggery and our local decision not to stand up against it. Behold the human consequences of the behavior you see from the “servant leaders” of these first videos.

Behold Kelli Stargel’s record on human display.

A gut check

I’ve already talked about the Democratic shortcomings on education here in Florida. It’s mostly an inability to focus rhetorical and policy fire on the most crucial service — and vulnerability — of the people who run Florida state government. It’s mostly a reflection, I think, of weakness born of many years out of power.

But the adults wielding that power disgustingly in these preceding videos are all Republicans. They are all inflicting harm on the voters and people and education stakeholders of Polk County, which is reputedly a red county. This is what you voted for, folks. Are you happy with it?

If not, you have a tough choice, Republicans.  I can’t make it for you. I won’t tell you what to do. I can only show you the real consequences.

And understand this: these people aren’t going to become better people. That’s why this referendum on the Florida Model is the first of many to come. Because as long as this is the reality we face, we believers in public education and teachers have no choice, no matter our party or point-of-view. This inhumane, morally and intellectually corrupt model, can’t be saved. It must be beaten and rebuilt because it rests on rotten human intent.

What would Sheriff Judd do?

In the second installment, we’re going ask a simple question. What would Sheriff Grady Judd do if Kelli Stargel subjected his deputies to what she subjects our educators to. What if Kelli Stargel had pilfered $160 million from the sheriff’s budget for protecting Polk County since 2014-2015, against his will, like she has for education funding in Polk County.

I study the sheriff closely and admire him as a model of effective public advocacy for the issues he prioritizes. So I think I have an idea how he would react. Tune in and see if you agree.



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