“Union:” the only positive force in Florida education’s human capital management model

“Union:” the only positive force in Florida education’s human capital management model

Richard Corcoran and Kelli Stargel and all the usual suspects are back this session with another ridiculous assault on the people of public education. This year’s ever-engorging collection of malevolent nonsense most famously includes bully vouchers and union destruction. Although unpleasant, this makes for good timing. Yesterday, I introduced a periodic series I’m calling “Education and the English Language.” The idea, with a nod to George Orwell, is to tackle a loaded word or phrase in education commentary. I’m going to address “bully” as a word soon; but today I’m focused on “union.” I want to spend some time telling business people, Republicans, and the public alike why unions are the only positive, large-scale force in the Florida education model today. All district employees are state employees This starts with a crucial fact about the educational corporate structure in Florida. If you understand nothing else about the public education model in Florida, understand this: Florida’s 325,000 public school employees are state employees. For all practical purposes, they work for the Florida Department of Education, which is a giant business/corporation/organization. With 325,000 employees in 67 districts, this Florida monstrosity employs more people in one state than Google, Apple, and Microsoft do combined, globally. Look it up. Your local school districts are little more than distribution centers for the product Tallahassee manufactures. Schools are the retail stores, especially the traditional neighborhood schools that Tallahassee despises. If you don’t come to understand that, dear reader, nothing will change sustainably for the better. Nothing. Your district may sign a teacher’s check. But DoE Inc.’s Board of Directors — your Florida Legislature — controls budgets, pensions, and operations. If you’re a teacher or a para or a bus driver, that makes you a state employee. Indeed, within most big national corporations, you will find greater salary variation based on geography of offices than you find among local districts in Florida. We’re not independent operators in any way. Local districts have about as much control over “education” in Florida as an Amazon warehouse has over pricing and sales strategy. Your schools have about as much control over what to sell and produce as your nearest Publix or Chili’s store. The daily environment at any given school — like any given Publix or Chili’s — can vary based on the profile of kids/customers and quality of leadership and general morale of staff. But it’s still a...

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Introducing “Education and the English Language,” a periodic series.

Introducing “Education and the English Language,” a periodic series.

More than any other space in American public thought and comment, I find “education” beset with corrupt, unhelpful, or dishonest uses of language. Start with the word itself. We can come much closer as a society to defining with clarity the concept of “war,” for all its euphemisms, than we can the concept of “education.” War essentially means killing people and applying coercive violence at scale to achieve national/ethnic political or economic goals that are contrary to an enemy’s. I don’t think anyone would fundamentally disagree with that. What’s the equivalent one-sentence definition of education? “School” may come close to a common meaning. But education? The thing produced by school? What is that thing? As a country, we disjointedly dedicate hundreds of billions of dollars annually to a concept that has no commonly understood meaning. Millions and millions of people depend on that money for their economic lives. Millions and millions more depend on it for personal development. Within the intersection of differing abstract conceptions and clear concrete interests lies political mischief. Where there is political mischief, linguistic mischief will thrive — and vice versa. The most “Orwellian” of vocabularies George Orwell understood that better, perhaps, than any public intellectual ever has. Were he alive today, I think Orwell would find that the language of “education” has become more “Orwellian” than any other used under any other broad heading in 21st century America. Some of Orwell’s most famous works of imagination from Animal Farm and 1984 involve malevolent absurdities of language: consider Newspeak and “All animals are equal — but some are more equal than others.” These are the timeless devices of art. And they stick in the common social consciousness of people who have not read them. Indeed, “Orwellian” itself has become the type of tired, lazy, weaponized cliche that Orwell himself warned about in his famous 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.” It’s become a word that people who have never read Orwell use to dub language they don’t like as shifty. Contemporary, but timeless “Politics and the English Language” was contemporary to a specific moment, just after World War II, within an era long past. So you might expect it to feel dated by comparison to the art that still lingers in today’s popular culture. Instead, it feels just as alive and relevant to human experience in 2018 as either of Orwell’s great works of...

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Stop the Kelli Stargel school closures. Vote for Judge Bob Doyel.

Stop the Kelli Stargel school closures. Vote for Judge Bob Doyel.

Here is a simple fact about Florida/Polk education politics and accountability: Sen. Kelli Stargel, Florida’s worst elected official, wants to close or destroy 14 public schools — serving roughly 10,000 or more kids — in her home county in the next two years. They are: Year 1 Bartow Middle School Garner Elementary School Griffin Elementary School Kathleen Middle School Lake Alfred Polytech Academy Lake Marion Creek Middle Year 2 Auburndale Central Elementary Crystal Lake Elementary Gibbons Street Elementary Kathleen High School McLaughlin Middle School Mulberry High School Stambaugh Middle School Walter Caldwell Elementary The incompetent Florida Department of Education, who enforces Kelli Stargel’s will, is ordering her home district of Polk and other districts to choose the method of destruction. But neither Stargel nor DoE has any inkling of a plan for serving the thousands of kids in question. They’ll mutter things about improvement and getting the right fraudulent school grade. But what they really want is to bully your local school district into turning those kids into revenue for unidentified educratic consultants and for-profit charter businesses. If you doubt me on this, understand that it’s not even an option to turn these schools over to McKeel or Lake Wales Charter or Discovery or Berkley. (Not that we would.) The state does not consider those locally grown conversion charters good enough to be “school of hope” operators. Multiple sources have confirmed this for me. We’re all on the same team, charter friends, whether we recognize it or not. And it’s not Kelli’s or your state government’s. 7069 was designed to help Academica’s business model, not you. In most cases, we already provide your capital. By contrast, Stargel’s 2018 opponent Judge Bob Doyel does not want to close or destroy those neighborhood schools. He wants to support them and help them build ever stronger methods of serving kids. I prefer Bob’s approach. And I think punishing Kelli Stargel for her bad faith and bad legislating by ending her political career and relevance would be the single most effective and far-reaching political act any of us can achieve in 2018. At some point, destruction must hurt the destroyer — or nothing gets better. Confront. Confront. Confront. And then confront again. I’ll explain the law and details and implications for these schools in a moment. But this is primarily a political essay. And I want to address the importance of political confrontation...

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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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