No, Commissioner Corcoran, there is no VAM “covariate” for selflessness, empathy, or honesty

This ridiculous equation, created in 2011 and discredited nationally in 2014, is the cornerstone of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and Kelli Stargel’s teacher bonus and teacher punishment programs. It is their weapon of choice to harm the people of public education. Yet, where can you find this equation reproduced? Or any information about its creation and use?

It’s not easy. See this little paragraph on the DoE website?

If you look very very closely, you will see this quote:

For information on the factors included in the model, please visit http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/7503/urlt/0102687-value-added-model-white-paper.doc (Word).

As I said above, the “model” in question is Cororcan/Stargel’s Value Added Model (VAM), that bizarre, discredited state equation that forms the crucial cornerstone of Florida’s state-level teacher evaluation system. This discredited equation determines who gets kicked out of “turnaround”schools and replaced by subs, as happened in Polk last week. And it plays a major role in DeSantis’ teacher bonus schemes imposed from Tallahassee. It is, right now, having a powerful negative effect on the Polk District’s efforts to pay people — and not just teachers. More to come on that.

Your Department of Education is soooooo proud of this model that it has buried access to it in a very hard to find paragraph. I love how the link isn’t even hyperlinked to descriptive language. It’s just cut and pasted. Hilarious. When you follow the link, you come to a 2011 white paper. 2011.

I would bet my house Gov. Ron DeSantis does not know this white paper exists and certainly has not read it. Yet it defines his approach to hurting teachers. I am begging any education reporter to ask him if he’s read the 2011 white paper. I’m going to email his staff and ask him myself.

Retro Richard is using a 2011 VAM, discredited nationwide in 2014, to harm kids and teachers in 2019

Let me repeat this. At the height of a critical teacher shortage, Florida is still using an equation from 2011 that American Statistical Association discredited in 2014 to sow chaos in schools that serve working class children. See this statement from the ASA.

And honestly, you have to read this Florida DoE white paper to believe it exists. I’ve screen-shotted the key paragraph below. Click to enlarge, and try to read it. And keep in mind that Corcoran just ripped away a certified teacher who had built relationships with grieving children who lost their parents last year and replaced her with a sub, based on this:

The 2011 paper further explains:

Ten covariates (variables) are used to establish the expected growth for students:

  • The number of subject-relevant courses in which the student is enrolled
  • Two prior years of achievement scores
  • Students with Disabilities (SWD) status
  • English language learner (ELL) status
  • Gifted status
  • Attendance
  • Mobility (number of transitions)
  • Difference from modal age in grade (as an indicator of retention)
  • Class size
  • Homogeneity of entering test scores in the class

The inclusion of these control covariates established expected student scores based on typical growth among students who are similar on these characteristics.

You will notice that these “covariates (variables)” do not include anything about growth in empathy, citizenship, selflessness, or the basic social decency that makes a person a good husband or wife. Remember that fact; we’re going to revisit it in a moment.

You also won’t find any “co-variate” related to protecting children during threats or serving as the backbone of hurricane shelter staff.

Retro Richard’s “covariates”

All that VAM stuff makes tragicomedic context for Richard Corcoran’s funny appearance in Pensacola this week. Here’s the most amusing quote from the Pensacola News Journal story.

Corcoran highlighted some of the areas where he believes Florida is excelling, including measuring school outcomes, encouraging competition among education models and creating models for accountability.

“It’s not about protecting status quo or fiefdoms,” Corcoran said. “The question that has to be answered is how we take every single child and give them that world-class education. And if for some reason the answer isn’t something that we like, but we know forensically from evidence it’s correct, you do it.”

LOL. Not to restate the obvious, but: Richard Corcoran does not mean this. Indeed, the thing to understand about Corcoran, above all, is that he doesn’t mean anything he says. Ever.

Corcoran does not mean it when he says that any concern at all for “every single child” is an intention of Florida’s education governance system. Even the state’s test score growth record for individual children (America’s worst) says that. Even all the life-killing NAEP-gaming through third grade retention is aimed at aggregate, not individual, kids. The individual human experience does not matter in Florida. DOES. NOT. MATTER. Your kid’s individual experience does not matter to your state government. Your child is nothing more than a part of an aggregate number for grifters to sell.

Corcoran does not mean it when he says Florida relies on evidence. If Florida did, VAM would not exist as a weapon, buried like Chekov’s gun from some ancient first act to wreak human carnage in the present. If Corcoran meant anything he said, he would not be using VAM to hurt people we need to retain as a state.

“People will live selflessly…” LOL.

Go read the whole article. It contains a string of talking points so incompatible with each other as to render the idea of lying irrelevant. It’s words untethered to meaning. He’s just trying to gaslight you. And it is vital to sanity, dignity, and decency not to participate in your own gaslighting, especially when the gaslighters have some power over you. Trust your own reality when it tells you that everything about education governance at the state level in Florida is fraud. Call it that. Fraud.

And then laugh at Retro Richard.

Because you’re not going to argue a troll out of being a troll. And you’re not going to argue a governor who wants to be a TV star into reading the 2011 white paper his teacher pay program is built on. The path to overthrowing this brutal but fragile education Banana Republic runs through through ridicule and clarity.

Here’s my favorite example from Corcoran’s Pensacola speech.

He left attendees with the message that education isn’t just about preparing students for jobs, but rather about creating great citizens.

“People will live selflessly, they will be empathetic and they will go out there and be great citizens, great husbands and wives and spouses,” Corcoran said. “They’ll be great members in a community, they’ll be on the rotary, they’ll be in the chamber, they’ll be at these luncheons. That’s what happens when you give someone a world-class education.”

LOL. Do you see any of those points contained with the VAM “covariates (variables)?” Do you see empathy, citizenship, selflessness, or the basic social decency that makes a person a good husband or wife bound into how Florida scores its teachers. LOL, again.

It’s important to mock the lies that power tells, especially when they relate to valuing human decency.

There is no plan; just grift and gaslighting

To be clear, with weapons like VAM created for him in ancient history, Corcoran has the power and inclination to harm in a piecemeal way. And he apparently mesmerized the easily mesmerized Gov. DeSantis into giving him those powers.

Because elections have consequences, those of us who are serious about saving humane, developmentally-centered public education, have to keep our heads during this time, endure, and combat what’s happening.

But be comforted by this: there’s no evil genius at work here.

Corcoran doesn’t have a “plan” for building this “world-class” education system. He doesn’t even have a new “plan” for destroying the good parts of what we have at the local level. By contrast, Jeb Bush and his people had a “plan” 20 years ago. It got us America’s worst climate for teachers (that was part of the plan) and America’s worst individual test score growth (which probably wasn’t.)

Yes, there are some corporate charter chains looking to get paid. But that’s on the margins. And vouchers are a griftopia basket case. There is no “plan” for replacing the scale of public education. If Corcoran did have a plan, he would have successfully mobilized Florida’s people to reject self-imposed taxes to strengthen and support their local public schools. Instead, counties went 24-24; and Corcoran couldn’t even mobilize his own campaign for governor.

So we should not elevate Corcoran beyond his status as abject failure in the only competitive election he ever sought — the only time his ideas and capability were ever actually tested on the somewhat open market of Republican politics. If someone doesn’t hand Corcoran something, he’s not going to earn or build it himself. Even misery.

He’s just a would be Joker who wants to watch what’s left of Jeb’s world burn. In that way, he is the perfect figurehead to preside over the last days of a dead state model built on fraud — which the public that is paying attention despises.

Corcoran: Arza is a “friend” with “a good heart”

Here’s one last example of Corcoran’s relationship with honesty and decency.

At last month’s Board of Education meeting in Lakeland, I caught the commissioner during a break. And  I asked him about Ralph Arza, confessed criminal harasser and top lobbyist for the Florida Charter School Alliance.

You may remember that Arza name-dropped Corcoran in an effort to pressure Polk School Board members to change their vote on a proposed charter school. And Gov. DeSantis may remember that he considered Arza too racist and prone to threatening behavior to work on his campaign. Full rundown of all this here. Here’s an example of what Arza is prone to say to public officials when he’s mad and drunk:

“Hey bitch. You’re nothing but a bitch. You’re ain’t nothing but a bitch, brother. My nigger. Fuck.”

The attitude doesn’t seem to change much when he’s not drunk, although the language may be less profane and less overtly racist and sexist.

In contrast to DeSantis, the Florida Charter School Alliance does not consider confessed criminal harasser Ralph Arza too racist or prone to threatening behavior. Neither does Corcoran. And it’s worth taking a second to chuckle at a dude who rolls with Ralph Arza saying this:

“People will live selflessly, they will be empathetic and they will go out there and be great citizens, great husbands and wives and spouses,” Corcoran said. “They’ll be great members in a community, they’ll be on the rotary, they’ll be in the chamber, they’ll be at these luncheons. That’s what happens when you give someone a world-class education.”

When I asked Corcoran why Arza has such easy access to him. Corcoran responded: “Everybody has access to me. You too.” Then he rushed off to use the bathroom; and an aide named Bethany Swonson intercepted me.

Later Corcoran sought me out. It was a friendly enough chat. He said “Ralph’s a friend” with a “good heart.” And he said their discussion of Polk was “in passing.” But I couldn’t pin him down on where it happened. His state office — or in a social setting.

So I decided to follow up with Bethany Swonson and test Corcoran’s honesty about everyone having the same access as Ralph Arza. Here’s my note, sent weeks ago:

Hi Bethany. This is Polk County School Board Member Billy Townsend. We met briefly at the Board of Education meeting in Lakeland, when I was asking Commissioner Corcoran about his discussion of Polk’s BridgePrep Charter vote with Florida Charter School Alliance lobbyist Ralph Arza.

I’ve pasted below the content of the email from our School Board attorney, which was what I was asking about.

The commissioner and I spoke a bit more later in the meeting. And he clarified most things for me. But I’m still uncertain whether this discussion with Arza took place in his DoE office, or in a social setting, such as dinner, coffee, etc. Could you clarify that for me?

Also, the commissioner mentioned that everyone has the same access to him that Arza has. I’d love to take him up on that. Obviously, he’s in Tallahassee and I’m in Lakeland. But perhaps we could have a phone discussion some time in the near future, so that I can make some suggestions to him about education policy and direction in Florida.

Thanks very much. My phone number is 863-209-4037.

I never got any kind of response. Of course.

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