The graduation rate conundrum, part 1: To cheer or not to cheer for Polk’s good news? Yes.

The graduation rate conundrum, part 1: To cheer or not to cheer for Polk’s good news? Yes.

Last week, the Polk County School District received some of the best education scoreboard news we’ve had around here in a long time. Our high school graduation rate increased in 2016-17 at more than double the rate of the state — 3.6 percentage points to 1.6. This is first time I can remember a significant Polk measurement surpassing a state measurement by a large margin. After rising to 75.4 percent, Polk’s rate still trails the state’s 82.3 percent rate. But if you’re a local economic developer, you can talk to out-of-county companies and executives and at least say, “See, we’re on the move, faster than the state.” For a year at least, we get to send a very positive directional brand signal. But is it anything more than a manufactured brand signal? Does it convey something different and better occurring on the ground for our kids, teachers, and community? And if it doesn’t, does cheering for it actually hurt our kids, teachers, and staff? Those are much murkier questions. They probably don’t have clear answers. My own instinct is to give a hearty golf cheer — for the sake of our people and kids. But I also feel obligated to explain to you why high school graduation rate is a quite meaningless — and ultimately destructive — measure for evaluating the performance and experience of any American school system. The credential matters more to your life than the experience. It shouldn’t. My reasoning starts with a question. If you were 35-years-old today, dear reader, and looking for a job, would you rather: 1) Possess a high school diploma even though you were routinely absent and did virtually nothing difficult to obtain it? 2) Not possess a high school diploma because you came up short as a teenager in tackling “rigorous” coursework in a system that prides itself on tough numerical measures? Let me answer that for you. You would prefer number 1. The unearned credential you were given would mean much more to your life prospects than the access to “rigor” you enjoyed and whatever skills you may have developed as a teenager short of receiving a diploma. This is because graduation rate is not really what we measure when we measure graduation rate. We actually measure non-graduation rate. (The US has also become stupidly obsessed with four-year graduation rate. Graduate in five? You don’t count. I’ll touch on that...

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Lenore Devore is not a “watchdog.” Our teachers, janitors, and LPD deserve better than her abuse of a sacred power.

Lenore Devore is not a “watchdog.” Our teachers, janitors, and LPD deserve better than her abuse of a sacred power.

Always the watchdog for the people, The Ledger is returning to an old practice of reporting on completed internal investigations at the county’s largest police departments and the Polk County School District. That’s the opening of the abomination of petty, low-level public employee shaming that Ledger executive editor Lenore Devore published a couple days ago. (Not going to link to it. No traffic from me.) This “story” went on to name a series of people fired or disciplined for a wildly varying range of sins/issues. Only one, I would say, was worth reporting publicly. And it already had been. Anyway here are a few points that are important to understand about that story. 1) Ignore the byline. This is Lenore Devore’s story. To blame reporter Eric Pera for following her orders is like blaming teachers for having to teach in the Florida model. 2) The Ledger has not had a full-time education beat reporter to act as a “watchdog” of the Polk School District since the excellent Madison Fantozzi moved on to greener pastures a few months ago. If Lenore cared about being a “watchdog of the people,” she would find a way to cover an organization with a $1.3 billion budget, 102,000 kids, and nearly 15,000 employees with something more than a patchwork of fill-ins for Madison. 3) I am almost certainly somewhat to blame for this story. I do value The Ledger’s watchdog function — more than probably any Florida public official values any media watchdog. That’s why I do whatever I can to keep its reporters and editors in the loop — even the ones like Lenore and Editorial Page Editor Bill Thompson, who continue to do absurd and useless things. Again, that’s because I value the work of reporters. I value their watchdog function. It makes me better as a public official. At its best, it helps keep our organization honest. And reporters are vital to engaging the public in important issues. A few months back, I started requesting completed Polk School District HR investigation reports. When I received some pushback/runaround from my own organization over this request (not from PR, by the way), I copied Lenore on an email in the hope of subtly getting the runaround to stop. And she declared in response that she wanted the same stuff I was asking for. The Ledger was always entitled to it as a public...

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The Florida model is DEAD. Here’s how we breathe life into something NEW.

The Florida model is DEAD. Here’s how we breathe life into something NEW.

Florida claims to be obsessed with data in education. That’s a lie, of course. The Jeb model has never actually cared about data on its own terms and in good faith. It has always seen data as a manipulatable political weapon to use against teachers and the very idea of egalitarian public education.  The behavior of our educrat leaders demonstrates that endlessly. But Florida claims to care. Data. Data. Data. That’s what it’s all about. Well, look at this data from a Stanford study of growth in test-based effectiveness measures between 3rd grade and 8th grade. Key fact: Purple is bad. And there are plums less purple than Florida. We literally look like a sore thumb. Click to embiggen. Here’s a link to a description of the study, which contains a link to the study itself. One caveat: I should say clearly that I don’t trust that this particular data: 1) Isn’t gamed. 2) Is remotely relevant to kids’ lives and futures 3) Should guide education policy. After all, if there’s one thing robot overlords will be able to do, it’s excel on standardized tests. We humans will not compete with them there. It is odd that many of the same very serious people heralding the arrival of robot overlords think standardized testing holds the key to making us relevant as humans in their world. But that’s a different post that will be written by an autonomous version of Billy. Every DoE/BoE employee should resign in shame This is indisputable: Jeb and his morally corrupt Florida educrats supposedly use this scoreboard to evaluate themselves. Everything about the Florida model aims to make us look good on those types of maps. How’s that working out? This study drills down to the county level. Not one Florida district gets out of purple. Basically every one in Tennessee does. That’s a state model problem. That’s a politician problem. That’s a leader problem. That’s a Kelli Stargel and Pam Stewart and Marva Johnson and Gary Chartrand problem.  It’s a Richard Corcoran and Adam Putnam problem (although, I think Adam at least knows there’s a problem). Twenty years of fraudulent school grades, bad tests, and crooked facsimiles of choice. And Tallahassee can’t even get one Florida district into green on its own scoreboard. Not even elite St. Johns County. FAIL, Florida, FAIL.  You own that purple, Tallahassee. You’ve made it clear for years that...

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The ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Chronicles: Ledger editorial writer would rather concern troll faraway women over harassment than support them at home

The  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Chronicles: Ledger editorial writer would rather concern troll faraway women over harassment than support them at home

As you know if you’ve been following my writing, the Polk County School District has its own high profile scandal relating to allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of official workplace power. In this case, Jason Looney, the powerful man accused of harassment in multiple forms and settings has suffered no personal consequences. Three formal investigations in seven years all concluded ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ — that the allegations against Looney, most of which were firsthand eyewitness accounts, could not be substantiated with evidence. Eyewitness accounts are apparently not considered sufficient evidence. Jason Looney has simply denied everything in a blanket, non-specific way. That has been enough to keep him as the principal, in apparently good standing, at Tenoroc High School. Thus, the revolution of powerful man consequences that #metoo has brought for serial allegations of behavior has not reached Polk County. You may think that a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s a thing either way. And yet, for now, deafening official silence prevails among Polk district leadership and Polk School Board members — with the exception of me. When the lawsuits come over this, it is my hope that my efforts to force this institution to meaningfully address this will limit our institutional and taxpayer liability. But who knows? At this cultural moment, the district’s handling of the Looney issue seems like a massive news story within our community that the supposed editorial voice of the local paper of record ought to engage. Instead, like district leadership, it has chosen silence. A far-sighted concern troll However, it’s not like Ledger editorial writer Bill Thompson, in his passive aggressive way, hasn’t found time to address #metoo as a whole. He did it a few weeks back in chastising women accusing state Sen. Jack Latvala for their anonymity. They owe it to Anita Hill to take the same risks she did. Really, that was his thesis. Key passages: All of that is appropriate. Yet the problem is that the victims, for now, remain in the shadows. This must change. We can understand why they desire anonymity. Not only must they fear a reprisal from Latvala if he survives the investigation, their reputations and standing in the Capitol would be maligned and undercut with other lawmakers if their accusations aren’t supported. Still, they should come forward, unpleasant though it may be. Anita Hill did so. A number of women did likewise...

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A glimpse of a new era: Why I am thankful for the impasse resolution

A glimpse of a new era: Why I am thankful for the impasse resolution

The 15-month impasse war began in one era; and it will end in another. I believe common sense and common purpose, against all odds, have won. And I believe that is a victory worth celebrating, while also recognizing the years of hard work we have ahead of us. I believe this negotiated deal for 16-17 and 17-18 — and the tortured process that got us here — will establish four very important concepts. 1) Like the 7069 lawsuit, this deal begins to align labor and leadership in Polk against the real enemy — Tallahassee. 2) Getting money and resources in the pocket of the people who do the work is more important than fund balance — or doing the state’s dirty work for it. Dropping the fund balance from 5 percent from 4 percent is the fundamental difference between how the negotiation began and how it ended. That is an undisputed bargaining victory for the people who work for us. If our state wants us to maintain a growing fund balance, it needs to provide the money to do it — or allow us to raise our own. Today, it does neither. Until it does, I will prioritize providing the service I took an oath to provide. 3) Negotiation works best when it is open, collaborative, and productively confrontational. The hearing model works better, much better, than the executive session model. This bargain demonstrates that. PEA and its lawyers very skillfully won the impasse hearing before the special magistrate. With that record in hand, impasse itself could not survive all of us all getting into a room together to hash out what was possible. It took two weeks to get a deal once the sides really began to negotiate. That made a giant impression on me and confirmed what I had long believed during the overall negotiation. When we agree on what options are, the options become pretty easy to pick. 4) Organized teachers and staff are not an enemy – or at least not an enemy your district wants to have any more. They skillfully fought a war for survival as a meaningful political and bargaining force that can influence the direction for this district in the future. And they won it because they had the better arguments, the better cause, and the better representation. Believe me when I tell you, those were not the positions of the...

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The Tenoroc situation: Jason Looney and Tim Harris in their own words

The Tenoroc situation: Jason Looney and Tim Harris in their own words

The final Tenoroc report has been issued. It is anti-climactic. It’s a somewhat strange rehash of elements of the first report. It seems more oriented to Jason Looney’s handling of the school as a whole. But there are some important findings of fact. Perhaps the most important is that Looney completely botched the professional development plan used to justify not rehiring Brandi Garcia Blanchard. And he has no explanation for why. Here is what the investigator said about it. I reviewed a copy of Ms. Blanchard’s Professional Development Plan. The PDP was started by Mr. Looney on December 09, 2016 [the report says 2017, which is obviously an error]. The form was not completed properly i.e. no S.M.A.R.T. or other measuring metrics to evaluating improvement [cq]. Furthermore the assessment tool was never finalized. There were no signatures to indicate that Ms. Blanchard received a copy of the Professional Development Plan, understand what was required of her and a time certain to improve in the areas of deficiency. Mr. Looney was unable to provide an explanation as to why the PDP was not completed properly. The PDP is what Looney and the Polk District used to justify getting rid of Blanchard. It’s the instrument that has kept her unemployed and tainted her record and career. It’s why she is still unemployed — and why we are not taking advantage of the services of a bilingual Hispanic administrator in a district with 33 percent Hispanic kids and 6 percent Hispanic administrators. Not sustained/unsubstantiated are very different from “unfounded” Nevertheless, the newest investigative report finds claims of wrongdoing against Looney “not substantiated.” That does not mean unfounded or exonerated. It means they don’t see enough evidence to support allegations. It means ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. That is also what investigators found in 2010 in the George Jenkins High School investigation involving similar allegations against Looney at an entirely different school with an entirely different cast of characters. The precise phrase then was “not sustained,” which meant “insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegation.” However, according to investigators in the most recent Tenoroc report, Looney told them that the Jenkins investigation “had been completely unfounded.” That is false. In fact, “unfounded” was an option for a finding in that report. Investigators chose “not sustained.” Unfounded would have meant “allegation is false or not based on valid facts.” It was not unfounded, much less “completely.” Here are...

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