Let’s take a visceral human tour of what Florida’s sociopathic education model looks like in real life for real people — children and adults alike.
We’ll start at the end, with these three marvelous young women from Stambaugh Middle School, a traditional zoned middle school in Auburndale. This video is short. Watch it.
Here’s the background: some time in the last few weeks, Polk was ordered by some detached bureaucrat in Tallahassee to forcibly transfer several dozen teachers from about a dozen schools — after the school year started — because of their score on Kelli Stargel’s/Florida’s discredited value-added model equation (VAM). Failure to do the transfers came with explicit and implicit threats to funding for our schools that most need it.
Understandably, our district 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 a sociopathic education model that creates sociopathic institutional behavior.
And understand this: nobody in state government from Richard Corcoran to Hershel Lyons to Pam Stewart to Kelli Stargel to Neil Combee to Rick Scott to Joe Negron gaves a rat’s rear end about “choice” for these girls. Choice in Florida is a lie. 70 to 75 percent of parents and kids choose traditional schools like Stambaugh. Your state enjoys punishing and hurting them.
Here’s a key quote from one these extremely articulate girls:
“A lot of these kids are suffering because of the educational situation. These subs cannot help us the way our teachers can. You guys are tearing us away from those teachers that we’ve had for so long and known from many years prior. I would like to say that these teachers who are being replaced have been some the best supporters and encouragers I’ve ever had. And I think that is really hurting everybody at Stambaugh Middle School.”
In case you’ve forgotten, or don’t know, VAM is this equation for deciding teacher effectiveness and merit pay, which Polk County’s main state senator Kelli Stargel takes credit for helping create.
VAM is big government social engineering at its absolute worst. So naturally your state government weaponizes it. Imagine the backlash to evaluating police with this.
How Gary Chartrand has fun
Now let’s back up to last summer (2016), when DoE/BoE/Legislature dragged Polk’s kids and teachers through essentially the same process. It was just as sociopathic as this one, if not moreso.
Check out the very short video below from Polk Superintendent Jackie Byrd’s appearance last summer before the Board of Education to take orders on how to gut five of our middle schools.
Watch Gary Chartrand, the most horrible member of a horrible board, as Byrd approaches. He’s the next-to-last-guy sitting on your left. Listen to him get caught on a hot mike. “Jackie Byrd. This is gonna be fun.” Hurting 8th grade girls is fun for him. Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. Again, sociopathic behavior.
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.
Condescension, a bouncer, and contempt for parental choice
A few weeks later, 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.
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.
I have operated comfortably in the public eye and hostile government settings for two decades. I’m not easily intimidated in these situations. But imagine someone else without that background and comfort with government machinery. Imagine some desperate parent without paid vacation trying to confront their government over this. It disgusts me. But this is the reality of what Florida’s government really thinks of its people.
By the way, our choice turned out great. My son did quite well on the stupid, corrupt test/level FSA system. More importantly, he was exposed to excellent and creative teachers (particularly in science and math and history and PE) who made him think — despite having to operate in a pretty industrial model. Most importantly for me, he was exposed to and became part of a social, racial, and class tapestry available only in a highly integrated traditional zoned school.
Crystal Lake Middle looks much more like America’s future than Florida’s BoE. As a high-skill, high-wage parent, I want my kids to have the human and social tools needed to function effectively and morally in the America that is coming. I do not fear or loathe it.
The kids at Crystal Lake welcomed my son, and he enjoyed the experience. It has already served him well as preparation for a big high school. It will continue to serve him well for the rest of his life. Just as his long prior stint in a Montessori charter school served him well, in a different way.
However, because we did not “choose” a more segregated school, my state government just assumes my wife and I are bad parents, incapable of making a rational choice. Or at least that’s what they claim to think. Ask dictator-of-the-sheep Richard Corcoran, who tweeted this yesterday about the 7069 lawsuit.
$500/hr 4 out of state lawyer 2 sue 2 force kids to stay in failing schools. DISGRACEFUL. We’ll fight 4 ALL FL kids https://t.co/KKHCp228GA
— Richard Corcoran (@richardcorcoran) August 29, 2017
Maybe Corcoran actually believes this. Maybe he doesn’t. Who knows? But I voted to sue to get him the hell away from my kid’s schools. I am not trapped anywhere — except in Florida with him without any democratic say over his dictatorship. Richard Corcoran does not know better than me or my fellow parents. Mostly, I think he’s just a fitting authoritarian for a state government with an acute personality disorder.
1800 lost years of instruction
All those transfers last year had real world consequences for the experience of kids and teachers at those schools.
Through the first six months or so of this year, Polk’s five “TOP” middle schools combined had suffered at least 2,617 days of teacher vacancies. That means an active class for which no permanent certified or provisional teacher was in place. 2,617 days. If you multiply that by the 125 or so kids each teacher touches, you get about 327,000 days. Divide that by the 180 days of a school year, and it gives you more than 1800 years. Almost two millennia of loss.
With full knowledge of this, the BoE/DoE/Legislative educrats insisted on putting us through it again in 2017. But not before some other malignant absurdities emerged from Tallahassee.
Chartrand’s fake fun facts
Education Commissioner Pam Stewart caught Chartrand bragging fraudulently about test results for a KIPP charter school in Jacksonville. Chartrand tried to claim that his personal favorite school, an enrollment-curated charter he helped get lots of extra state money, got 41 percent of kids to proficient on the FSA. Yeah, he was bragging about that. Fun. But it turns out, even that’s a fake number.
Then [Stewart] wrote: “Gary trying to claim kipp went to 41%.”
Citing the actual data, Copa replied, “Kipp Voice Elem went from 28% to 35%.”
“I know,” Stewart wrote. “I think he/[they] take out retained 3rd graders when they calculate.”
“Why?” Copa asked. “They are included in school grades.”
“No kidding,” Stewart responded.
She added: “Tim’s creative way of selling his board on what they are doing.” Then she corrected herself: “Tom. Not Tim.”
Chartrand got the 41 percent figure from an email Majdanics had sent to the full board explaining the results. As Stewart guessed in her texts, the executive director had provided a pass rate that excluded students who were repeating third grade after failing the test the year before.
Every number in the sociopathic Florida model is gamed and weaponized at every level to keep communities, teachers, administrators, and types of schools at each other’s throats — and Jeb Bush’s foundation in power.
DoE also hated 7069/Schools of Fraud; lacked the courage to do anything about it
Text messages from the last days of the Legislative Session show that even DoE wanted School of Fraud to fail. Check out this great story from Politico’s Jessica Bakeman.
Scott’s appointed education commissioner and her staff also believed the bill would die on the governor’s desk.
After the Senate floor vote, the Department of Education’s lobbyist, Tanya Cooper, texted her colleagues: “The senate vote was 20 yeas to 18 nays on 7069.”
“Oh my!” education commissioner Pam Stewart responded.
Demonstrating the department had hoped the bill would fail, Cooper added: “We almost had it!!”
Stewart noted that both Simmons and Montford opposed it.
“Veto override might be tough,” the commissioner wrote, adding: “This was a cuhrazy session.”
When providing the text messages to POLITICO Florida, a department spokeswoman offered a statement from Stewart asserting her “unequivocal” support of Scott’s later decision to sign the bill.
I’ve talked to some mid-level DoE folks. They’re nice enough. (Feel free to call me anytime with useful gossip.) I have no doubt they would trash all of this if they could. I suspect some of the leaders would, too. But there are no extra points for behind the scenes complaining. You either buy into all this cruelty and corruption; or you’re too cowardly to do anything about it. That’s a distinction without a difference.
Zombie VAM is still eating brains
Ironically, even the corrupt Florida Legislature this year came to recognize VAM as a self-evidently absurd and fraudulent way to evaluate anything.
So it quietly added a provision to “Schools of Fraud” (7069) making it “optional” for districts to use VAM. The new law included no acknowledgement of the human damage already caused. It also did not change the fact that discredited VAM determined teacher effectiveness in the last couple years.
So when it came time to order this year’s teacher transfers based on effectiveness rating, the DoE still used VAM as the determiner of effectiveness. And we in Polk did not successfully prepare our folks for the bad news or execute the transfers with the most possible compassion and understanding. But when you act with a gun to your head — and your children’s — you don’t always act with the grace you would like.
Thus, the people who experienced the transfers personally turned most of their anger and pain on their local government.
You can’t reason an abuser into stopping the abuse
This is how abusers get the abused to turn on each other. Tallahassee figuratively, but savagely, beat Polk’s kids and people in 2016 and knew full-well the human impact of doing it. Then it did it again in 2017 a way that let the local district carry out the abuse and absorb the terrible internal hit for morale and branding.
When I say that state government is like an abusive spouse, this is what I mean. I’m sure it’s painful for many people in many districts to wake up and realize they’ve been sleeping with the enemy — especially when they voted for and actively supported that enemy. But there can be no doubt now.
I was thrilled to see Duval County join the 7069 suit. And I noted the reasoning that Duval Board Member Scott Shine gave for not joining. Here’s a key quote:
The problem with litigation as a remedy is that it simply will not work and will exacerbate the animosity that currently exists between public education and the Florida Legislature.
Thats’s a defensible position.
But what Shine calls mutual animosity, I call one-sided abuse. And based on close observation and experience, I must reject the notion that if we’re meek and beg Tallahassee not to hit us that they won’t hit us — this time. How many abusers behave that way?
Indeed, Tallahassee knows the consequences of all this stuff in Polk. At any time, any of these people could offer help, apology, atonement…anything. The moment they do is the moment I engage them in good faith. But all they offer is more abuse. The next decent thing they do for education and kids will be the first.
That’s particularly true of Kelli Stargel. At least Colleen Burton and Neil Combee and Sam Killebrew go through the motions of trying to engage. I’ve given them suggestions. We’ll see what happens. I’m not optimistic because I think they’re largely content to be powerless, if it keeps them in Legislature. They don’t do risks. But I will happily admit it if they prove me wrong.
By contrast, Kelli Stargel is an absentee slumlord when it comes to politics and her record. She won’t take responsibility for anything she’s done to these kids — at Stambaugh or anywhere else. She shows no sign whatsoever of remotely caring what happens to these kids or the teachers who serve them. Her behavior over years and years is painfully consistent. She could be working with us right now to atone for what she’s done and create a better way. Instead she’s hiding behind and providing cover to state bureaucrats, like she always does.
The record shows that Tallahassee is going to hit us no matter what we do. And I fully expect public and private retaliation for talking this way and voting the way I have. This is a sociopathic model; it provides powerful incentives for sociopathic behavior at every level. Retaliation is its currency. Ask David Simmons. And in the last couple weeks, I personally seem to have come to the attention of Manny Diaz and various henchman of the model. I expect some consequences for that. But as I’ve said before, unanswered pre-taliation is worse.
A multi-front fight
The lawsuit is only one front on a multi-front pushback against Tallahassee’s undemocratic abuse of real communities and real people. I think it will feed popular political pushback – and vice versa. It think it will help continue the popular discrediting of this model.
Indeed, if I could talk one-on-one to Florida’s 18 million people, I feel certain I could wipe this model from the earth. But I can’t talk one-on-one to 18 million people and explain what needs to be done. The essentially undemocratic, Deep State structure of education makes transformative moves hard.
It will take a governor who brings in a new apparatus. Maybe that happens in 2018; maybe not. But the model’s not going to get more popular in the future. And one day, we’ll get the right governor. I think the 7069 lawsuit will accelerate that day.
So even if we lose this suit, we won’t be any worse off. Even if Tallahassee gets rid of School Boards altogether, it will bring our legislators closer to the deep popular animosity against Florida’s fraudulent test-and-punish/Common Core model. For once, they might have to answer to the public for something.
Communities — and the School Boards sworn to represent them — have tried abject submission for 20 years. It’s time for some animosity.
See below for parts 1 and 2 of this series.