I have taken to saying recently that the state government in Tallahassee is a disease on education — and that local districts present the symptoms. I know nothing that better represents this than our most recent VAM transfers.
These transfers also represent how little power the voting public has to influence the educational policies of their own communities and state. No elected body signed off on these transfers, which were a product entirely of coercive interaction between bureaucrats in Tallahassee and bureaucrats in Bartow. The public had no say. That’s how everybody in power seems to want it.
Taking back our say, as a public, is vital to changing Florida’s dead and corrupt model of education. That’s another reason I’ll be voting to sue over 7069 Tuesday night. I sit on my School Board; but I represent my community. My community demands better of Tallahassee, and it demands better of its district. We have to kill that disease in Tallahassee and treat the symptoms at home in a meaningful way — rather than endlessly creating new ones.
Here’s the latest.
What happened with the VAM transfers?
As best that I can piece together, some time in the last few weeks, bureaucrats at the Department of Education offered some sort of Godfather’s choice to our Polk District leadership: transfer a bunch of teachers because of the VAM scores in last two years (yes, VAM has been discredited and made optional moving ahead; doesn’t seem to matter); or your turnaround plans aren’t approved for various schools and you can’t apply for additional money made available by 7069 — yes, the same law I hope we’re planning to sue over Tuesday night.
I received this brief explanation of timing directly from the superintendent this evening:
The application deadline was August 15, 2017. The statute allows for funding of “up to $2000 per student”. According to FDOE guidance, they will be funding “up to” 25 traditional schools (although statute allows for up to 50). The amount any approved school is allotted will depend on how many applications are approved and how many students attend each approved school. They will notify districts by October 1.
And when did we get the VAM scores that dictated the transfers?
We received the 2016-17 VAM data from the state the evening of August 3, 2017 – one week prior to school opening. Prior to that, our only option was to use 2015-16 VAM data. The 2015-16 VAM data was received by the district on 8/6/16 – one day before teachers reported. Transferring teachers was required by the Commissioner in order to have our Turnaround Plans approved both last year and this year.
I remain a bit unclear on how much choice we really had as a district in this. I will be asking Tuesday. Here’s what I don’t have doubt about: your elected representatives were given no opportunity to weigh in as an elected body to express your will as the public.
In fairness, I was told in passing in the middle of last week that transfers were coming, but without details. Later in the week, we board members received a general notice about them. At that point, I probably should have shared that document publicly. I didn’t, for various reasons that aren’t very good. In truth, it’s a moment of weakness and distraction for which I apologize. I allowed the fact that I was given no forum to keep me from creating a forum. That’s on me.
But even if I had raised hell in public, it would not have mattered. This choice was made by Tallahassee and Bartow without anyone else’s input. The communities of Polk County were not consulted in any way as to whether they wanted to punish teachers defined by this abomination of an equation.
To make matters worse, we seem to have executed notification of transfers in an abysmally callous and impersonal way. If I die prematurely, it will be because I pounded my head into my desk excessively while chanting “stakeholder management, stakeholder management, stakeholder management” and “HR, HR, HR” in vain.
There are arguments to make for pursuing this money and making the transfers. Had the district staff called an emergency meeting to gauge the feeling of the elected School Board, maybe we all would have voted for it. Maybe I would have picked up a chair and thrown it. I honestly don’t know. I still have too many questions.
I do know that I’m unable to provide any political and public cover for the superintendent and top staff in this decision — because I still don’t know enough about how it was made. And I had no real chance to shape it as your elected official. And now we’ve alienated another batch of instructional staff. One of these days people in power will realize that I can help them (see Class Wallet) if they let me.
This entire episode has crystalized to me another thought: education in Florida is fundamentally undemocratic. Charter school communities have no formal voting capacity to shape the direction of their educational institutions. And district schools of all kinds only have a slight veneer.
In this VAM case, you have the unaccountable state bullying a district staff about an important decision that the public never gets a crack at. And it’s the unrepresented public and kids and teachers who suffer.
This lack of meaningful input means deep public disengagement. As a result, Florida and Polk suffer from the same core problem in education: no sense of common purpose. It’s almost impossible to have common purpose in a model based on fraudulent competition and ruthlessly targeted punishment, where the public has no chance to correct it.
The incentives become too awful.
As a board member, creating that sense of common purpose and development in our district has become my greatest internal priority. The very crappy last week in our district showed that me again how hard that will be until we fix the wretched power in Tallahassee that has turned local education into a horribly cutthroat industry.