In a crucial moment for advocacy, Kim McDougal keeps the FSBA impotent

This is aimed at my fellow school board members across the state and our umbrella organization, the Florida School Board Association. The FSBA is largely funded by taxpayers through dues that local boards pay. I’m going to dispense with much more exposition about FSBA and get to the point:

The FSBA pays about $36,000 per year to consultants/lobbyists to represent the interests of its members, which are the interests of the public who elected us.

The FSBA’s lead legislative advocate is a woman named Kim McDougal. She’s a lobbyist for the big statewide Gray Robinson law firm. She’s based in Tallahassee. (Everybody, on all sides of all issues, seems to work for Gray Robinson.) McDougal was formerly Rick Scott’s chief of staff. That means she owns Florida’s Death Purple/NAEP test score growth failures as much as Scott or Jeb Bush before him.

The FSBA is the Vichy France of public school advocacy groups. Kim McDougal is its Petain.

To be blunt: if Kim McDougal is the tip of the FSBA’s advocacy spear; then the FSBA has no spear. Indeed, I see no evidence that Kim McDougal actually works for the FSBA. I see every indication at she actually works for the very narrow interests of Richard Corcoran and the tiny, increasingly incoherent cabal of grifters who wield state-level power in education in Florida. Her job, in my view, is to keep the FSBA impotent and out of their hair. She is quite good at it.

It’s no wonder that FSBA is the Vichy France of school board organizations. Faced with a hostile occupation by a destructive ruling force, it has chosen supplication over advocacy.

Education activist and author Ted Dintersmith ran into Kim McDougal when she was chief of staff a few years back while researching his book “What School Could Be.” Their exchange is profoundly important for Floridians to know and understand. I wrote about it a while ago. It’s even more important for FSBA members to know and understand, especially now that the courts have rendered school boards officially powerless in relation to the state in all areas other than advocacy.

Kim McDougal: “Educating children is like fixing a car.”

As you read this, remember that Florida has the worst individual test score growth in America and that Florida kids collapse in aggregate proficiency between age 9 and 13 on the NAEP. Every NAEP year. Every NAEP subject since 2003. This occurred on Kim McDougal’s state government watch. Remember that. It was happening as she talked to Ted:

The meeting was short. I met with the chief of staff to Florida governor Rick Scott, who advises him, and previously Jeb Bush, on education. Her staff rescheduled a few times, but she met me at 2:45 p.m. in her office in the Florida State Capitol. Let’s refer to her as KM. [Billy insert — I’ve since confirmed with Ted via Twitter that KM is, in fact, Kim McDougal]

I introduced myself and began explaining what I was doing. I tend to talk fast but after a couple of minutes, KM stopped me. “Look. I know everything I need to know about education. You don’t need to tell me anything. What can I explain to you?”

Me [Dintersmith]: I believe that the more test-driven a school is, the more it puts kids at risk in a world of innovation.

KM: You’re making this too complicated. Educating children is like fixing a car. You take a car to the garage and pay them to fix it. We pay our schools $7,000 per student and expect them to be educated.

Me: How do you know they’re learning anything?

KM: That’s why we have standardized tests.

When I started to respond, KM stood up and informed me, “Look. I’m important to the governor. Thank you for your time.” And left. In a year with a thousand meetings, this was the worst.

This is who local school boards pay their tax-funded FSBA dues money to for legislative advocacy. I actually confronted McDougal about this meeting during an FSBA break out session about “advocacy” at one of the FSBA meetings. She pleaded ignorance about the exchange; and then she went on to describe Tallahassee as “transactional,” which is accurate. And she suggested the best way to accomplish anything was to beg and flatter. It’s not clear what she thought FSBA or education advocates would accomplish by that. But basically the entire room full of board members — in a session about advocacy — sided with her against me. I was considered pretty rude for raising the issue at all. So there’s that.

At a later meeting about legislative “victories,” the only victory McDougal actually cited for FSBA was protection against board member term limits.  Think about that — and the narrow selfishness of it from a membership point of view.

An unbelievably important moment for school board advocacy, wasted on Kim McDougal

Everything is up for grabs in Florida education right now. The people in charge are going in a 100 different directions at once because they have no plan but grift. There is a leadership vacuum, which the FSBA should be filling assertively. Advocacy and the fearless, honest framing of facts and issues has never been more vital than in this moment.

Here are just a handful of profound issues percolating through state-level power related to education, right now. The FSBA is not remotely a player in shaping any of them:

Staking the VAM-pire: what real advocacy looks like — and can accomplish

One of the easiest pieces of advocacy has to be VAM.

Literally no one but Richard Corcoran and Kelli Stargel and their Board of Education sheep support it. And yet, it persists as an undead blood-sucker of teachers and kids alike, particularly at “turnaround” schools with populations of vulnerable children.

Here’s what it did to Polk County just a few weeks ago. 

By supporting the school in question and writing the article I linked to above, I alerted the Polk County media to VAM’s Florida use. That, in turn, led to contact with media elsewhere, particular Jeff Solochek with the Tampa Bay Times. I was curious how VAM had played out in Pasco County, which Jeff covers in addition to statewide education.

To Jeff’s enormous credit, he decided to study VAM and its real-world use in Florida, which even the few supporters of the VAM concept find absurd. That turned into an important, extremely well-researched article that informed the public about a vital issue. I was the first Florida board member quoted in the story. But more importantly, Jeff made Manny Diaz answer questions about VAM and the absurdity of its use. And that produced this statement:

“We have been trying to discover the best way to evaluate teachers. It’s been something that has eluded us for a long time, because it’s not an exact science,” Diaz said. “Those issues are always issues we should be willing to take a look at.”

One possible place to start, he suggested, could be the way the teachers’ scores get distributed. Having them arrive after classes have begun leaves schools no room to make changes without disturbing learning.

“Movement at that time of year can be disruptive,” Diaz said. “Anything we can do to improve that, I would be in favor of.”

Put aside the dishonesty inherent in Diaz pretending that he is somehow surprised by the outcomes he has intentionally produced. Jeff’s questions, which emerged from my advocacy, forced Diaz on the record about something he doesn’t want to own. It ripped a massive intellectual hole not just in the state’s VAM rationale and system — but the entire teacher evaluation mechanism. It got the most powerful education senator to admit he has no idea how to evaluate teachers.

That’s what real advocacy can do: alter conversations and conventional wisdom to drive meaningful change. By all rights, we should stake the VAM-pire once and for all in this legislative session — if FSBA had any advocacy juice at all. Indeed, Kim McDougal and the FSBA should leaping into the breach I created with institutional swords drawn to seize important ground. Kim McDougal should have been creating these VAM stories through advocacy. But that’s not her job.

Her job is to protect Manny Diaz and Richard Corcoran state government from any kind of organized, assertive advocacy on behalf of meaningful change from the FSBA. Her job is to protect state government from voters with taxpayers money. And now that 7069 and Florida’s activist judges have stripped local school boards of any real power other than advocacy, protecting the people who want to destroy local districts a curious way to spend taxpayer money on advocacy.

Make it effective or shut it down

I like the staff leadership of FSBA, McDougal notwithstanding. Staff will do what membership directs, ultimately. And the meetings are helpful in various ways, mostly in building relationships and organizational insights. But the money FSBA is spending on legislative advocacy isn’t just wasteful; it’s actively harming the kids we’re all supposed to represent and serve.

The FSBA should change the mission or end the function. Kim McDougal will have no trouble finding work elsewhere. After all, she was “very important” to a Florida government that has produced America’s worst performance on its own test-and-punish metrics. That’s what qualifies as effectiveness in American  educational advocacy.

 

 

 

 

 

3 comments

  1. Giving credit where it is due: , I did not call Best and Brightest the Worst and Dumbest… Senator Nancy Detert did. When the plan was initially snuck through via a budget bill, Nancy explained “The bill went through absolutely no process, Never got a hearing in the Senate. We refused to hear it because it’s stupid.” https://www.heraldtribune.com/opinion/20150721/editorial-worst-and-dumbest

  2. Is there any similarity between the frustration school boards and sb members feel at not being able to influence education policy at the state level, and the frustration parents (and teachers) feel at not being able to influence policies at their local schools?

    • Billy Townsend

      I would certainly think yes. But much of that policy at the school level is actually set at state.