The DeSantis vs. Corcoran/Jeb K-12 civil war, part 1: real schools and serious governing are the key to “reopening the economy,” whatever that means

There’s a paradoxical and paralyzing civil war over pandemic education raging between the Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. I think they are aware of it; but it’s possible they’re not. These are not the brightest or most self-aware people in the world.

This intra-cabinet civil war exerts great weight within the larger “re-open the economy debate” because schools are the lynchpin of normalcy. It reflects two incompatible understandings of what public schools mean to communities and to “reopening the economy”:

Team DeSantis: Traditional K12 schools are the crucial sine qua non (without which not) of economic and social normalcy. And “most parents” want them back as soon as possible — or maybe sooner than possible. This is Florida. DeSantis knows his approval rating won’t get better until people can openly gather, conduct normal business, and party at Disney again; and that won’t happen without schools providing mass free child care and signaling it’s OK to mass gather. That’s why he’s so eager to open them now. DeSantis is indifferent to the mission of public schools; but he recognizes their daily practical value to his interests. It’s quite logical that he wants to open them. It’s also impossible.

Team Corcoran/Team Jeb: Traditional K-12 schools are the post office, a vulnerable public good, a grifter white whale. And the grifter Ahabs see the pandemic as their giant harpoon with which to finally kill public education and fully profit from its flensed blubber. (Here’s a rundown on who “they” are.) They think they can keep most schools closed after a vaccine, or at least force most kids — especially poor kids — into “test-and-punish on screens from home forever.” They have never cared or understood how physical, neighborhood schools fit into the social and economic fabric of communities; so they’re happy to close them now and to kill them for the future. They are delusional in thinking the public will swallow this; and time will show it. But today, they have the right position — for the most toxic of reasons — on the keeping physical schools closed. See Jeb’s wheeling and dealing with Alaska on Florida Virtual’s behalf if you don’t think he’s still the real governor.

Who is the “we”?

I detailed and sourced the irreconcilable differences and interests of Team DeSantis and Team Corcorcan/Team Jeb in an article from a couple days ago. Go read it if you think I’m being melodramatic here or oversimplifying. I’m not. I tried to speak directly to DeSantis in this excerpt: 

[Team Corcoran/Jeb] don’t care about the public or your political career. They came before you; and they think they’ll be here afterward. Nothing in their experience has told them anything different. And above all, Corcoran and Jeb’s people and all the teacher-hating grifters do not believe or think like this at all. Note the parts in bold:

“If it’s safe, we want kids to be in school. I think most parents want that,” DeSantis said. Even if it’s for a couple of weeks, we think there would be value in that.”

They are not in that “we” with you — or with “most parents” or the public.

JebWorld’s entire worldview and sustaining grift revolves around selling the public on the idea that the traditional classrooms in other people’s schools, particularly those that serve kids without personal capital, are “failure factories.” They admit to no human value in those classrooms, at all. They would never admit that “most parents want” what you say they want, governor.

As you might expect, I’m fully on Team DeSantis conceptually in this civil war — with a blizzard of practical asterisks attached. The first asterisk is that there is no way we go back to physical school this year, not when New York has already reported 50 dead education employees from its month in hell.

Opening next year is the truly difficult question that we need to dive into

Thus, I fully support and appreciate recent calls in the last couple days from superintendents and Florida Education Association (FEA) President Fed Ingram for the governor to make clear that we’re not going back this year.

It’s patently obvious that there is no alternative; but saying it would officially end this charade. And it would let us start thinking and planning seriously for a much more complex question and challenge: how do we open in August and September without a vaccine or money?

How is Gov. DeSantis thinking about that challenge? Well, his minion escorted the Florida Surgeon General out of a public meeting earlier this week for simply stating the obvious: no vaccine = no normalcy.

TALLAHASSEE — Floridians will be keeping their distance and wearing face masks for up to a year until a COVID-19 vaccine exists, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said Monday before being whisked away by the governor’s spokeswoman.

That’s one approach to governing, I suppose.

Another is to actually think about the challenges you face and try to govern through them. Here’s how I see next school year’s possibilities at a high level:

Assuming that we have money to open, but no vaccine, I see three basic model options: 1) Full opening, despite the risks of even a curve-flattened pandemic. 2) Full closure and the continued technical, social, mental health, and equity hardships of full distance learning, which are very real. 3) A carefully-managed, voluntary re-opening of physical schools that prioritizes young readers and kids who lack connectivity and personal capital at home. It would be a temporary model that thinks of itself as a “resource” not an “authority.”

The likelihood of a non-compulsory, limited in-person model — focused on emerging readers

I think we will end up, in Polk and the state, at some version of #3. And we should start serious thinking and planning for it right now. I’ll flesh out some ideas/consideration for this hybrid idea in part 2 of this two-part series.

Part of planning for any physical re-opening requires us to understand that it has to be voluntary. We will need to match willing teachers/staff with willing kids/parents. And that means compulsory in-person education is essentially impossible until a vaccine or the virus burns itself out.

Personally, I believe it is worth considering some risk in bringing elementary school kids, particularly those in homes with little personal capital or connectivity, to physical schools for in-person learning. They are at a very vulnerable moment in learning to read, which is the most fundamental thing school provides.

But I won’t order anybody into harm’s way for it.

Indeed, how can you force a 60-year teacher back in the classroom without a vaccine; how do you force a parent to send their child with an underlying health condition back to a classroom setting? You don’t.

Get a supply and demand scope for voluntary opening; and beat the compliance addiction

Instead, you start asking now how many parents, kids, and staff are willing to — or insist upon — taking a calculated risk. You develop a projection of the potential student body demanding service — and the staff resources available to you to provide it. And then you plan how to protect and serve them adequately, knowing that it won’t be 100 percent safe.

Districts can’t really do anything beyond glitchy distance learning until we adopt that mindset and start that process. As I’ve said before, public education must think of itself today as a community resource, not a punishing authority. We have to shed our compliance addiction, both state and local; and we have to reject limits on what we’ll consider just because we’ve always complied with something different imposed for no good reason but power.

Let’s be clear: there may be no way to open physically at all. Schools exist as part of society and can be vectors of contagion; and the risk may be unacceptable to wider society, especially if we have no effective testing system in place. We may be stuck with essentially what we have now come August. But we’ll definitely be stuck with it if we don’t start thinking through creative options now — and how to engage the public and employees in considering them.

Part of the planning for this hybrid model would recognize that we need to suspend the fraudulent state “accountability” system again in 2020-21. Get over it, grifters and Big Think Tank fake data junkies.

Jamming school grades and testing onto to some voluntary, partial physical school opening is absurd and impractical — even if it wasn’t completely bullshit in the best of times. The governor should make that announcement now. Team Corcoran and Team Jeb will have a sad; but who cares?

Florida state government cannot govern; so local coalitions and associations must

The problem with option 1, full opening, or even creating part 3, this hybrid model, is that both require serious governing. Unfortunately, the people of Florida have decided with their votes over the years that Florida does not need a functioning state government. So we don’t have a functioning state government.

Florida hasn’t had a functioning state government and any sense of state-level public good for many years. This is hardly surprising. Modern Republican politics is built around the idea that government capacity and funding is bad. Modern Republican politics resents governing capacity and refuses to pay for it. Then it complains loudly when it’s needed and lacking.

Indeed, now that we all need a functioning state government, we look around and see the fruits of that mentality: Ron DeSantis, Richard Corcoran, Manny Diaz, Jamie Grant, Chris Latvala, Kelli Stargel, Colleen Burton etc., etc., — it’s just a menagerie of grifters and hangers-on and nobodies and failsons whose only governing talents or goals have been breaking unemployment systems and causing teacher shortages. Most of them are hiding.

Dedicated and relentless public servants like Rep. Anna Eskamani from Orlando are few and far between in any party in Tallahassee. But the Republican party that currently holds power is particularly awful at using power for anything but grifting. I wish it were otherwise.

Organized testing = “governing”

Marco Rubio actually gave quite a useful and responsible overview of the governing reality that faces us in months to come, before there’s a vaccine. I encourage you to watch it:

Key point: To “open” the economy, “we have to have a system in place to rapidly test people and isolate them and trace contacts.” I completely agree. This “system” Rubio wants is called “governing.” It requires actual governing capacity and systemic competence.

Marco Rubio was Florida Speaker of the House and one of the more influential politicians of the last 15 years in Florida. Rather than try to build or sustain effective governing capacity, he chose to run for U.S Senate as a fake Tea Party grifter on a platform that useful government capacity is a scam. Choices matter. And guess who was Rubio’s chief of staff when he was Florida Speaker of the House: Richard Corcoran. Choices have consequences.

Indeed, I see no evidence that the state government Rubio and Corcoran and Rick Scott handed to a minor TV commentator is remotely capable of building and implementing a strategic testing plan. Prove me wrong, please. But let’s be honest with ourselves: right now, the governor isn’t even capable of staying in the same room with his Surgeon General when his Surgeon General says exactly what Marco Rubio said.

Meet the “Commission on Serious Pandemic Governing,” chair Alberto Carvalho

If DeSantis was smart, he would appoint a coalition of local leaders — health and political — to essentially take over governing until the next election. DeSantis ran to be on TV with Trump, not govern, anyway.

This commission’s most urgent task would be to build the testing system and integrate it into public life and school function.

This commission would be a Florida county and city-based version of the multi-state coalitions emerging on the American west coast and northeast. In Florida, we could do it through associations like the Florida League of Cities and Florida School Board Association. This commission could be considering multiple longer-term governing issues like those cited in this link.

Would it be embarrassing that Florida’s state-level elected officials have to outsource their jobs to other officials? Yes. But, desperate times…and you could certainly include some of the Eskamanis of the world. The “Commission on Pandemic Governing” could include a wide selection of hospital leaders, local government leaders, union leaders, business leaders. I would certainly be happy to serve.

And I have a chairperson in mind: Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

I should be clear; I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Carvalho, whom I know only by reputation. I think he’s a bit of a showboat; and I find him too cozy with the BS of the Florida Model and with the Jebs and Ralph Arzas of the world.

However, I think such a commission should be led by an education executive because of the fundamental importance of the schools to economic and civic function. Understanding how schools and school systems function is crucial to reopening them in any circumstance. And Carvalho has the charisma, comfort with public presence, and willingness to think strategically to provide direction that is sorely lacking right now.

He understands organizations, operations, and public politics. That’s important. And at least in his public bearing, Carvalho does not have a compliance addiction that turns him into a shrinking violet at times of crisis. Witness his tweet from yesterday.


He’s been very good during the Pandemic; and if Carvalho says we need to kill the fraudulent accountability system next year to rebuild the fundamental service of education around human connection for kids, Team DeSantis and Team Corcoran/Jeb will both listen and obey.

If we can’t get a “Commission on Pandemic Governing” — and we probably can’t — the Florida School Board Association (FSBA) and Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS) should start their own version focused on whether and how to open schools.

In addition to Carvalho, I would recommend Diana Greene from Duval (who faced down Corcoran and Jacksonville’s mayor recently over their education grifting); Rocky Hanna from Leon County (another superintendent with the guts to have public opinions beyond compliance addiction); and a smaller rural country superintendent.

That foursome would provide good geographic and socioeconomic diversity in the districts they represent. There are a number of good school board candidates. But I would say Monroe School Board Member Sue Woltanski, who is also a physician, is an obvious choice.

Without serious governing, “reopen the economy” = “buy me a unicorn”

To conclude, America’s current “reopen the economy” debate is exceedingly stupid.

That’s because “reopen the economy” is not a thing. It’s not “closed” now.  Many individual businesses are closed and  suffering terribly along with their employees. That’s who we need to save and serve; not “the economy,” which is just a word and some scoreboard data, which is still being produced. “Opening the economy” alone does not guarantee individual businesses or employees customers or revenue or personal well-being.

Indeed, arguing “open vs, close,” as if either one-word abstraction carries definable meaning, distracts us from the real challenge: what serious governing path and decisions allow the smartest, imperfect balance of safety, freedom, and commerce until there’s a vaccine?

Understand this: there will be no Daytona 500 moment until there is a vaccine — or the virus somehow burns itself out. The magic president and his grifter children seem to imagine American economic and social life is running NASCAR laps under caution after a big crash. Once they wave their green flag with their “total authority,” everybody will roar back to top speed — which wasn’t that great for a lot people before all of this happened.

Despite its absurdity, the NASCAR race analogy is useful in thinking this through. That’s because the mass free child care and mass employment that schools provide are the pace car of the local American economy and civic life. (That’s before you ever even get to “education,” which is an incalculable value.)

Trump and Kushner can wave their green flags at the field all day with their “total authority.” If the pace car has blown an engine, the field behind isn’t going anywhere. And Trump has not yet been willing to say he has total authority to “reopen the schools.” He really hasn’t even talked about schools, which just shows again…well, you know what it shows. Let’s not argue.

So when anybody says, “We can’t keep the economy closed,” they’re just mouthing words. Ask them in return: “Ok, are you willing to open the schools?”

They will almost certainly answer: “It depends.”

Indeed it does; and in that “depends” lies the imperative to govern seriously. It demands that we recognize “reckless opening now” or “test-and-punish-on-screens-forever” is a false choice offered by politicians who don’t care about education as anything but a grift or a totem of normalcy.

If you want to “reopen” society and the economy — and believe me, I do —  help serious people snatch the fate of schools and the economy away from these meaningless and wasteful arguments between useless public figures.

 

 

 

3 comments

  1. Amanda Cabanas

    What about teachers? What about sports? What about afterschool activities? What about parents that need to work to pay their bills? What about insurance? What about this and that? Has anyone seriously thought about the what ifs and abouts? If schools close down next year think about the drop out rate! Think about the kids in elementary that will be held back because they are not getting the proper education they need! Has anyone thought about teenagers and drugs? HAS ANYONE THOUGHT ABOUT THE CHILD ABUSE SOME KIDS ARE GOING THROUGH BEING OUT OF SCHOOL AND EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES? WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS THAT WILL CONTINUE TO STARVE? Are they going to count those deaths as “covid19”? People wake up! I understand the seriousness of this VIRUS 100%, but when did our country turn into one that does not put their trust in GOD?? Why are our leaders acting like a bunch of crybabies? Why are they putting their trust in Bill Gates? Sense when did this country become so afraid? God built the United States strong, he built this country with love and compassion. He has given us so many amazing leaders that have taught us how to survive! But here it looks like yall are putting your faith in another country into media yall are letting lies become your reality! You dont even trust yourself anymore, you are waiting for the media to tell you how to live and you are scared of the judgment from others if you dont! I dont really give a flying fart who’s doing what in the government because most Americans are being the biggest crybabies I’ve ever seen! Yall dont want flags up you take down monuments you change the name of a town because you are so afraid to stand up for what this country is based upon! GOD!!!! All that to say the cowards that continue to put their faith aside because they are afraid someone might judge them, you are showing our children that it’s ok to run away from problems, you are giving them an excuse to not give their best! You are setting them up for failure because you are worried about what someone else will think of you! Shame on this country. Shame on this county! Polk county is suppose to be the heart of Florida what are you going to do when it’s time to depend on our youth to help take care of you? Being that they are not given the proper education today could affect your life down the road! So you want this county to be strong, all of the what ifs and what about need to be considered. Trust in your government instead of fighting with them. If you dont agree guess what, GOD CAN CHANGE IT!!!! Haha! Yes He can! And He will if we get our heads out of others butts and trust in Him! Stop with the he said, she said, I think it should be crap and let God do His job! Let’s trust in God just like we do that dollar to pay our bills and take care of our families. I am not ashamed of God! I know what he can and will do! My fear is in the Lord not the world!

  2. Joseph Hornberger

    Thank you for this thoughtful and timely analysis. I teach in the Martin County School District in Martin County Florida. A district which is hopelessly addicted to compliance in all forms at all levels. Almost every single administrator at the school sites and at District are obsessed with power first. There are vanishingly few people of true integrity and ethics involved in educating our kids here. If nothing else, this pandemic forces these willfully ignorant Bean counters to look at the reality of what schools provide our society. I am going to try and spread this article as far and wide as I can because I think it’s important reading for every teacher not just in Florida but in America.

  3. David Breyer

    DeSantis wants to use our children like animal test subjects and say “see? It’s safe to go back to work! Would I let your children go back to school (even if only for a couple of weeks) if it wasn’t safe? “. I’m not a doctor or an infectious disease specialist. So this is my totally uneducated opinion. I don’t believe that if we go back we will see tens of thousands of kids die. But maybe if we start back in May, we’ll come back in August and have, I don’t know, maybe 3-5 from each school lose either a student or a parent? That’s not out of the realm of possibility. And that blood will be on DeSantis’ hands.

    But the real question is: if he DOES open up the schools, will the PCSB have the balls to take a stand a do what’s right?