DeSantis: “I’m a Republican,” so experienced teachers must suffer; Levesque: my NAEP failure means it’s time for more school grade fraud.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “teacher pay plan” is focused primarily on teachers who do not exist.

It revolves around setting a floor salary of $47,000 for starting teachers — for people who have not taught before.  Anyone paid more than that because of their longterm commitment to education can suck it.

Why? The governor is admirably clear. He sees teachers who actually exist, who have long-term commitment to the development of children, as political enemies. 

Here’s how DeSantis responded when the Florida Education Association had the temerity to point out that committed, experienced, long-term, long-suffering teachers and other low paid employees need help more than the figments of DeSantis’ imagination who would suddenly leap at a $47,000 first-year salary.

“It’s just funny though, I mean look – let’s not pretend there’s not politics involved in this, I mean it’s just the fact of the matter – I’m a republican, they’re not. And so what I’m doing is never going to be enough, and my job is not to do what the union wants, it’s what I think is best for education and particularly for individual teachers.”

That speaks for itself. Clearly.

But let me embellish for a second: the last time I checked with reddish county Polk’s local teacher union, roughly half of the membership is Republican. Moreover, DeSantis’ plan also has no interest in helping with salaries for bus drivers, paras, cafeteria workers,  custodians, etc., the other long-suffering people who make public education function every day — large portions of whom are also Republican.

Of course, that’s a narrowly, politically self-interested way of judging the stupidity of the governor’s  statement. There are deeper moral questions at stake about the nature of governing and sharing a country. So let me assure you, if I were your governor, I would never form human policy by saying, “I’m an NPA and you’re not; so let me make you suffer.” And I think people who disagree with me on various issues, but have also dealt with me, know that to be true.

DeSantis plans to light $600 million of your money on fire for no benefit because “Republicans” should hate actual teachers

Moreover, any person interested in return on taxpayer investment should run screaming from this operationally ignorant and politically cynical “pay plan.” It reveals how little DeSantis actually knows – or how cynical he is — about the education system he oversees and the teaching profession. (I lean more toward knowing nothing; but it’s close.)

Any basic phone call to a district HR office — or a Google search — will reveal this fact: turnover and attrition for early-career teachers (first three years especially) is huge.

It’s particularly huge in Florida, where bad pay is matched by Tallahassee’s unyielding workplace hostility. Florida is America’s worst educational employer. Moreover, if you haven’t been a parent yet, you are likely unprepared for the energy challenge and unrelenting demands of confronting 130 11-year-olds each day. Many newcomers to the profession, especially young people, realize quickly: this is hard — and not for me.

The teachers who can tough it out for the first few years, or have that special missionary zeal that has kept community public education alive in the face of all Jeb Bush’s efforts to kill it for 20 years, tend to stay much longer. They deliver much more value to the taxpayers who fund them. They also barely sniff $50,000/year after a decade or more of service. See this article for illustration. For some reason, Republican politicians have been told they’re supposed to hate and hurt them. I don’t get it. 

Here are multiple Polk examples of the experienced people/teachers, with whom I’ve interacted in just the past couple of days. Ron DeSantis says these people are his enemies because he’s a Republican. Make your own choice. But know this about me: they’re not my enemies; they’re my heroes. And I didn’t ask any one of them about their party.

  • The middle school PE teacher and girls volleyball coach who runs Polk County’s model sports program at one of those zone middle schools that people are so quick to fear. He spent his entire Saturday with the girls and parents in a team-building day that ranged all over downtown Lakeland. On the team’s private Facebook group, he cites “the practice player of the day” each day, based on effort, attitude, and contribution to the team culture. And guess what? They win.
  • The elementary school teacher who took in another child with a behavioral challenges that a different teacher struggled to manage. Nowhere will that vital and unselfish competency show up on a VAM or test score or school’s grade.
  • The 20-year-plus high history teacher and former law enforcement officer who had a stroke this summer, who rather than retire like he could, is fighting as hard as he can to cut through migraines and pain and limitation to return to teaching at full strength.
  • The longtime elementary school teacher who spoke Saturday at the memorial service for custodian Peggy Morey, who was murdered recently in a terrible crime spree in Winter Haven. Both women were and are relentless advocates for the humanity, safety, and well-being of their kids and colleagues. And the depth of the feeling was incalculable.
  • The high school drama teacher taking tickets at the box office Saturday night, whose wife saw me at Peggy’s memorial service Saturday and good-naturedly shamed me into attending the final performance of the drama club’s “Clue,” which I did, much to my benefit.
  • The longtime and elite high school teacher alerting me to an important piece of information about district grading policy. (More to come on that.)

Again, I’ve come in contact with these folks just since Thursday.

When we lose experienced missionary teachers like this because they just can’t take the insult and animosity of the Florida Model any more, we lose the iron commitment, hard-won knowledge, and leading classroom practices go with them.

That can’t just be replaced by Ron DeSantis’ “Republican” fantasies.

A dead governance model built for and by grifters produces very dumb public statements and lots of school grade fraud. Get ready for more.

So when DeSantis says, “it’s what I think is best for education and particularly for individual teachers,” it actually reveals how little thinking he has actually done about individual teachers or education. This is not a guy known for his thinking, so that’s hardly surprising. But those of us, of all political persuasions, who are fighting for the survival of public education, cannot afford to be as intellectually and morally lazy as the governor.

In a subsequent post, I’m going lay out a speech that an actual education governor, someone who knows something about education policy and the teaching profession, can give to end the fraud of the Jeb Bush era — of which DeSantis is just the reductio ad absurdum.

But today I want to give everyone a heads-up on the school grade fraud to expect in this coming session because of Florida’s “terrible” new NAEP scores.

They’re really not much more terrible than they’ve been since at least 2003, which is quite terrible. As I’ve written repeatedly, both the NAEP and state tests show that Florida’s endless chase of test scores leads to America’s worst test score growth and biggest collapse in aggregate proficiency. Florida kids always peak at age 9 because we cheat with 8-year-old retention; and then they collapse from there. Here is that collapse mapped since 2003, including the most recent 2019 version just released. Click to enlarge.

Full explanation here.

Look at how numbingly and predictably consistent the collapse is. In every single NAEP cycle, in every single subject, since 2003, Florida’s NAEP score relative to the national average has collapsed between 4th and 8th grade. 2013 Math was the best year, holding the collapse to -3 in 8th grade and -4 in 12th.  All the rest, in every year and subject, were -5 or worse. Last two cycles have been -8 and -10 in Math. Florida is careening in the wrong direction.

This is not because of ground-level educators; this is because of the crushing model imposed upon them by terrible statewide policies. That is why the growth results are catastrophic statewide. They are a logical outgrowth of the conscious political decision to eliminate personal, individual, human growth as a priority for the Florida state education system.

Congratulations, Patricia Levesque. Now go away.

This operational record belongs, more than anyone, to Patricia Levesque — an unelected, think tank educrat who has done more to harm your child’s educational experience and teachers than any other non-elected educrat for a generation.

Levesque leads Jeb’s “Foundation for Florida’s Future,” which is basically the real DoE and real Senate and House education committees rolled into one big private grift. It has been effectively in charge of Florida education since 1998. That means Patricia Levesque has been in charge since 1998, acting as Jeb’s unelected policy henchwoman for a full generation.

Every NAEP failure Levesque cites in the following statement is her failure and Jeb’s failure, personally and professionally. But she’s going to make you suffer for it. Read it here:

The Florida results from 2019 Nation’s Report Card are disappointing but not unexpected. When we don’t regularly raise the bar in how we grade schools, we have flat or declining performance. It has been a long time since the State Board of Education has raised the bar in school grades – in fact, the longest period in our 20 years of school grading.

It is also not surprising that our 8th graders continue to struggle to beat the national average on the NAEP, since the performance expectations we have set on our state test are so far below the NAEP expectations.  It is especially disappointing that after making significant gains, the achievement gap on 8th grade reading between the state average and low-income and minority students has regressed to the same level as 1998.

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have aligned their expectations for student proficiency on their state test with NAEP proficiency. Florida did not, leaving a 22 point and 33 point gap in reading and math respectively on the bar we ask 8th graders to meet on our state test, compared to the bar that the NAEP test sets for 8th graders. The highest performing state in the country, Massachusetts, has no gap.

Note the part in bold. The entirety of the Jeb/Levesque era “gains” for vulnerable children have been wiped out by the very same people who supposedly created them. Levesque gutted the teaching profession for that result. And, of course, to sell stuff and call it “choice.” This has always been about negative marketing of human beings to sell stuff.

Back in May, I wrote this about the coming attempts at new school grade fraud. Note the bold:

For 20 years, Florida public education advocates and stakeholders have made a terrible, terrible short-sighted mistake every time they cited their own personal school or district grade. In Polk County, we continue to make a terrible, short-sighted mistake in having any reference to school grade fraud in our strategic goals. I will get it out one day.

Trust me on this: now that Tallahassee has a taxpayer voucher nose under the tent, school grades will worsen in the next couple years. The grifters gotta have something to sell with. There is no excuse, based on observation and experience, not to be that cynical about school grade fraud and manipulation.

Well, here comes Patricia Levesque, using her own deep professional and personal failure on the NAEP to prove me right. Here’s her prescription for fixing the dead Florida model: more of the same old dead Florida Model. It’s more school grade fraud and teacher punishment tied to tests that have no educational value all the way down. See for yourself:

The good news is that Florida can move forward with a few simple actions and investments:

  1. The State Board of Education should raise the bar on the school grading scale and reinstate the automatic escalator that allows the scale to increase gradually over time as school performance increases.

  2. The State Board of Education should ensure that the cut scores on the 8th grade reading and math tests are aligned with NAEP proficiency the next time Florida moves to new tests aligned to new standards.

  3. The Legislature should reinstate the responsibility and funding for professional development in science-based reading instruction with the Just Read, Florida! office.

Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. No ideas. Nothing but entitlement and projection of failure onto others.

Mark down January 13th and 14th

The actual good news is that it’s not 1998 anymore. The fraud and grift and inhumane incompetence of all of this is increasingly evident to anyone paying attention. It’s why DeSantis feels the need to mouth the words “Year of the Teacher,” while declaring that teachers who actually exist are his political enemies.

Finally, there is energy and politics around Florida education again: between parties, within parties, within unions and teachers even.

It’s all pretty confusing and non-traditional in its contours. But at the core is this: the public likes public education; the public likes teachers; the public wants to develop kids as human beings. And it’s finally waking up to the fact the powerful in Florida have believed and inflicted the opposite of that for 20 years. The public does not want to destroy; it wants to build. So a lot of politicians are telling a lot of lies about what they support because they feel the public turning.

So why did DeSantis say the quiet part out loud, then? I don’t really know. It’s somewhat mystifying.

But the simplest answer is usually the most correct. I just don’t think he’s thought much at all about either education policy or education politics. “I’m a Republican” is clearly enough for him. And I’m thankful for that. It’s helpful.

As I said, this diverse burst of political energy is blowing up old structures. And it’s contributed to teachers mounting a pair of parallel demonstrations in Tallahassee on Jan. 13 and 14. As I understand it, one’s a union thing; one isn’t. But they’re not dueling; they’re complementary. And I’m going to both. I know a ton of Polk teachers and staff are already planning to go to one or the other or both.

I will take any vote I need to facilitate that. I’ll be discussing this at our next board meeting. If we have to shut down on Jan. 13 and 14th, I’m fine with it.

We’re in a world where the governor has this to say about our most vital employees: “It’s just funny though, I mean look – let’s not pretend there’s not politics involved in this, I mean it’s just the fact of the matter – I’m a republican, they’re not.”

Everybody has to decide what to do with that. But I’m going to fight for the dignity and respect of everyone — and the development of every child — as long as I can.


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