The consent of the tested and punished, part 2: the Florida Death Purple, the NAEP, and the corrupt brand signals we tolerate from our government

The consent of the tested and punished, part 2: the Florida Death Purple, the NAEP, and the corrupt brand signals we tolerate from our government

This quote below comes from the final paragraph of FSU Physics Professor Paul Cottle’s latest installment in our ongoing dialogue. In this case, my usage of “STEM” intended to reference branding, not content. But I didn’t make that clear; because I’m not sure I had fully articulated it for myself when I wrote it. Now I know I should have said “STEM-branded.” That’s what I meant. And that would have been more accurate. And that context illuminates beautifully the point Paul makes below in response. Billy, I had to chuckle at your characterization of Florida’s education system as “STEM-based”. High school physics enrollment is down 8% over the last three years – and that’s after the state was already at half the national physics enrollment rate. High school chemistry enrollments are down 9% over the last two years. If this is what victory looks like… Here’s a link to some of his detail. Paul’s paragraph also helped me get to the core of my critique about Florida’s political standardized test obsession. Testing has become a tool of easy branding — and really nothing else. Test results send (often crushing) brand signals to individuals and their parents. To communities. To politicians and voters. To business recruiters, many of whom, understandably, seem to think that education systems exist to produce numbers to recruit businesses. The idea that these test results should be used constructively, to develop and nurture human potential, is barely even given lip service any more at the political/government level — as opposed to educational level. Remember, this is the Florida state government’s — Rick Scott’s — official position on educating children: “You’re making this too complicated. Educating children is like fixing a car. You take a car to the garage and pay them to fix it. We pay our schools $7,000 per student and expect them to be educated.” “How do you know they’re learning anything?” “That’s why we have standardized tests.” If you’re clever or shameless enough in your data manipulation, you can make those brand signals say almost anything you want about the same teachers, kids, and education system. So as consumers of test-based branding, we have to understand that our children are nothing more than branding units for Florida’s politicians and powerful. Doubt me? Let’s take a closer look. The Death Purple gets silence. I have probably written more about the map below and Stanford study...

Read More

The Aramark contract and the Polk School District’s most damaging internal pathology

The Aramark contract and the Polk School District’s most damaging internal pathology

I’m an active and inquisitive board member. I do not believe the people of Polk County elected me to sit idly by and collect a $40,000/year salary awaiting “recommendations” from staff that I then rubberstamp as a formality when I show up for meeting once or twice per month. I believe the people of Polk County elected me to solve problems and improve the culture and direction of Polk district leadership. That means I have to ask questions of staff leadership, so I can figure out what those problems are and how we might solve them. Sometimes, I sense, this questioning annoys some staff members (but by no means all; many are extremely responsive and helpful) Staff are busy. I understand that, and I don’t hold annoyance against them. I try to be sensitive to their pressures and workload and not overburden them. More significantly, I sense my interest in information annoys my fellow board members. In fact, I have been lectured in meetings more than once by fellow board members about my propensity to ask for information, via email and otherwise. Kay Fields, particularly, during our “goal-setting” retreat, insisted that I follow a protocol for information gathering that staff prefers: this involves copying Superintendent Jackie Byrd and her executive assistant JoAnne Clanton on any request for information that I make of anyone via email. I think this is silly and burdensome for the superintendent and JoAnne. But that is what they and Kay and other members wanted. In the interest of trying to be a team player, I agreed. So now, when I ask a question of leadership, JoAnne runs down the answer. And then she sends it in a general note to all board members without saying who asked the question or including the text of the question. As voters, and stakeholders, I think it’s good for you to have this window of context into what I’m about to show you. Within an hour late yesterday afternoon, I received two very unsatisfactory answers to questions I asked. One concerned what specific mechanical steps the district/board needs to perform to get as many Lake Wales-area middle schoolers as possible to attend Lake Wales High, their home high school. This is a goal that everyone (Lake Wales and district) seems to share. The answer I got — through a generalized answer to the board — was long and bureaucratically...

Read More

The consent of the tested and punished, part 1: Florida tells Ted Dintersmith, “Educating children is like fixing a car.”

The consent of the tested and punished, part 1: Florida tells Ted Dintersmith, “Educating children is like fixing a car.”

You’ve heard me write and talk quite a bit about Ted Dintersmith, an education activist and philanthropist, whose perceptions and obsessions overlap substantially (but not completely) with mine. I have particular fondness for Ted because we are in lockstep in how we see the toxic state-level educational experience imposed by the toxic Florida state government. Ted’s new book, “What School Could be,” is a travelogue of sorts. He went to all 50 states in search of joy, creativity, and purpose in educational experience. In the course of that trip, he came to Florida. I saw him on his visit to Lake Wales, where he was very critical of the Florida Model. See this post for an account of that discussion that I wrote during the 2016 campaign. He also went to Tallahassee. There he had a short meeting with Rick Scott’s chief of staff. Dintersmith’s account of this meeting is, perhaps, the most concise and profoundly revealing snapshot I have seen of the lazy and destructive thinking that created and sustains the Florida model. It’s the most profound description I have read of the arrogance and contempt that people of power in Florida have for the humanity of your children. Just read this. (I’m asking for some fair use leniency here.) The meeting was short. I met with the chief of staff to Florida governor Rick Scott, who advises him, and previously Jeb Bush, on education. Her staff rescheduled a few times, but she met me at 2:45 p.m. in her office in the Florida State Capitol. Let’s refer to her as KM. [Billy insert — All indications suggest this is Kim McDougal, long-time state government fixture, now a lobbyist.] I introduced myself and began explaining what I was doing. I tend to talk fast but after a couple of minutes, KM stopped me. “Look. I know everything I need to know about education. You don’t need to tell me anything. What can I explain to you?” Me [Dintersmith]: I believe that the more test-driven a school is, the more it puts kids at risk in a world of innovation. KM: You’re making this too complicated. Educating children is like fixing a car. You take a car to the garage and pay them to fix it. We pay our schools $7,000 per student and expect them to be educated. Me: How do you know they’re learning anything? KM: That’s...

Read More

What is Algebra? And is it memorable and useful enough to justify doing lasting harm to kids’ lives over it?

What is Algebra? And is it memorable and useful enough to justify doing lasting harm to kids’ lives over it?

This is a long-overdue response to Paul Cottle, a Physics professor at FSU, with whom I exchanged some very enjoyable thoughts and questions that culminated in this essay he wrote back in January. I think this is part of a vital discussion about the systemic purpose, meaning, and consequences of education. I hope we’ll keep it going.  I have a terrible mechanical/computational memory. My wife and I often played “Memory” with our kids as they grew up. I never won. Not once. Ever. The locations of the little cows always swam on me once we turned them back over. My wife and kids got a giant kick out of laughing at my frustration. Moreover, I can’t remember phone numbers; names; where we keep the pots; when I’ve locked a door (multiple times a week, I make multiple trips to our doors at night because I can’t be sure that I’m not remembering locking them last night). Family ridicule aside, I have come to regard this poor computational memory as something of a gift, rather than a curse. Because, on the flip side, I have a ridiculously good impressionistic/emotional memory. When something makes an impression, it never goes away. I internalize it — and potentially weaponize it — automatically. Without much effort, really. For instance, names don’t make an impression on me. But if that human whose name I can’t remember communicates their pain or fear or love or anger or experience to me, it attaches itself to an understanding of that person whose name I can’t remember. I am not a brain scientist. I’m theorizing here only from my own experience. But I think my brain automatically sheds clutter it does not think it needs so it can lock in on the deeper thoughts and human concepts that make me who I am. I think my brain has an ability to sense and assign value in what it processes — and discard what I don’t really value. It’s hard for me to know — or even speculate — that people who remember more of what they encounter than I do have greater difficulty discerning importance and value. So I’ll refrain from doing it. But I’m increasingly thankful, in my life, for my computational memory shortcomings. I think they are a feature, not a bug, of any talent I possess and any accomplishment I can claim. Memory, retention, and achievement This question...

Read More

Kelli Stargel’s true colors: “I do not plan to be there” on April 24 when the School Board votes on the Stargel School Kill List

Kelli Stargel’s true colors: “I do not plan to be there” on April 24 when the School Board votes on the Stargel School Kill List

Take a look at this video I took of Sen. Kelli Stargel on Tuesday. Here’s the context for it. At our April 24th meeting, your School Board will address Stargel’s legislative mandate to choose a method for punishing and harming the people who attend and work at six Polk schools. These schools have been singled out because they are not Cs on the fraudulent school grading algorithm. In many cases, Stargel and the state have actively sabotaged these schools using this test score equation — the so-called Value Added Model — to disrupt teaching staff. For instance, Kathleen Middle is a point a way from a “C.” It would not be on this list if Stargel and Tallahassee had not used the fraudulent VAM equation in early 2017 to gut Kathleen’s teaching staff and replace it with multiple subs for half the year — against the principal’s wishes. Using VAM, the state forced Bartow Middle this year to wipe out much of its math department and replace them with subs — against the principal’s wishes. This is a mess of the Florida Model’s making. And despite it, a lot of really good work continues to happen at those schools. I would send my son to either, just like I sent him to a different D-school last year, where he had a good experience. Having done whatever she can to hurt the people of these schools, here are the choices, mandated without funding, Kelli Stargel is forcing on us via last year’s abusive House Bill 7069 law: Close the schools. Outsource them to charter operators that do not exist. Turn over millions in taxpayer money over time to useless consultants. Stargel’s big pay day for educrat consultants will mean less money for other schools and less money to address security, mental health, and humanity issues at those schools. The consultants will not be addressing any of that. Stargel and state government do not respect the choices of parents at those schools. They have not asked parents at these schools if they want the neighborhood school they have chosen closed or outsourced. I do respect those parental choices. That’s why I reject all of the options on Stargel’s ultimatum. They are harmful to my community, kids, teachers, and staff — as is our malicious and incompetent state government. But Stargel and that same state government, by law, says I can’t reject...

Read More

Sheriff Judd seems to misunderstand his own law. So let’s start over, as serious and collaborative people.

Sheriff Judd seems to misunderstand his own law. So let’s start over, as serious and collaborative people.

The “School Security” law your legislators and Polk Sheriff Grady Judd recently produced swallows itself in fundamental and lethal contradiction. Ideally, all stakeholders would recognize this and simply start over again. Ideally, this time, lawmakers and Judd would seek good faith collaboration with subject matter experts in school operations. But we don’t live in an ideally governed state. Thus, it’s vitally important for you, the public, to understand this paradox: to implement Grady Judd’s Guardian program consistent with Grady Judd’s vision for it, which the state law wants to coerce your School Board to do, your School Board will have to break the same law Grady Judd helped create that is trying to coerce us. And by breaking Judd’s law, we will create massive daily firearm accident risk and impulsive behavior risk — the exact type of daily risk Judd seeks to avoid in his jails by preventing detention deputies from carrying weapons while performing normal duties. [Kids are not prisoners. Schools are not jails. But schools are full of human immaturity. These children are developing. Depending on their ages, they can be grabby, impulsive, angry, depressed. Some have disabilities that impair judgement. Some feel suicidal. A gun is power. It will exert the same gravity and endless possibility of violent disruption in a classroom that it will in a jail. It is a deadly, shiny object. See a full examination of that here.] I know that’s quite a bit in one paragraph to wrap your head around. I took me a long time to figure out how to articulate it. But this glaring contradiction at the heart of the law stems from three key facts: The Guardian program is an “arming teachers” program that excludes teachers from being armed. Elementary schools, which have the fewest security incidents, pose the most vexing cost, logistics, and safety challenge because they don’t have school resource officers. And there are a lot of elementary schools. The law requires either a school resource officer or “guardians” at every school, including elementary schools. But the state does not fund SROs for elementary schools. Thus, it seeks to strong-arm boards into “defending” elementary schools with a Guardian program that doesn’t actually arm teachers. Let’s look at each of these in a little greater depth. The Guardian program is an “arming teachers” program that excludes teachers from being armed. Arming teachers is an unsound operational and moral idea for the reasons...

Read More