I regret to inform Wesley Beck, Jeff Chamberlain, and David Hallock that they have been ripped off.
This three-man super group of Ruling Class Club and Lakeland First calls itself “Lakeland Leads.” They shelled out a ton of money and waited a very long time (almost two years) for a young woman named Kate Wallace to produce a “white paper” on education in Lakeland/Polk County. That paper has finally dropped. I have a copy.
You may recognize the name Kate Wallace. She is a champion of Florida’s disastrous education status quo, which produces America’s worst test score growth performance. (Full link and documentation here.) She publicly sneered at the people of Polk County during a state Board of Education in summer of 2019. Key quote: “A perpetual dark spot for our community has been being a perpetual bottom-feeding district.” If you attend or work in Polk public schools, she was talking about you. See the video below:
Kate also flew Jackie Byrd on Lakeland Leads’ dime to the now infamous week at the Jeb Bush-foundation luxury conference in San Diego. That means, if you’re upset about the superintendent leaving, you can thank Kate Wallace and Lakeland Leads for it. I’ll explain that in a later piece.
I could have done this white paper for free — and much faster
Beck, Chamberlain, and Hallock should have just let me write Kate’s “white paper” for them. I could have done it much faster and for free. Its content is that predictable and its language that infected with vaguely dated corporate buzzwords from the failed and dying “education reform” movement. I am fluent in that language — and the bad faith with which it is wielded.
Indeed, I would love to know exactly how much money Lakeland Leads actually spent on this. It’s not just Kate’s salary and expenses and GrayRobinson office space, etc. They also had to hire people to read, organize, and interpret the publicly available spreadsheets for her. Quote from the report:
“Dr. David Figlio, Dean of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University, is one of the researchers Lakeland Leads engaged to study Lakeland and Polk County student achievement data.”
Lol. “One of the researchers.” (I can imagine that Figlio guy saying, “You’re gonna pay me how much? To do what? When can I start? Can I get on the payroll long-term?”)
I can assure you that I never needed to outsource the work on anything I write. And for a while I was sending the Lakeland Leads people multiple white papers a month in the vain hope they would read and engage them.
We’re going to have much more fun with this “white paper” in the days, weeks, months to come. That’s because there is simultaneously much and nothing contained within it to discuss. It is an extremely helpful exhibit in demonstrating how intellectually and morally lazy the Florida and Polk County educational and civic status quo is.
A “portfolio” of chuckles
But I want to focus today on one specific buzzword used in one “recommendation”:
“Develop a robust “portfolio model” of public schools in Lakeland comprised of a balanced menu of high-quality neighborhood public schools, district-operated magnet schools, independent charter schools, and district-authorized ‘schools of innovation’.”
This is akin to Wesley Beck, Jeff Chamberlain, and David Hallock commissioning a very expensive “expert” report about Publix — and then recommending that Publix sell groceries.
Polk County is already the most portfolio-ist of portfolio models, according to Kate’s own report. Check out the seven slices in this pie chart — illustrated in her own report.
Kate just repeated “portfolio model” because it was a phrase all the cool kids with DoE and Jeb’s Foundation and Step up For Students were using a couple years ago. I haven’t heard it much recently. It’s a marketing term designed to make “erode capacity for actual public schools that don’t exclude kids” sound more palatable to the public.
The literal definition of “portfolio” is “a range of investments held by a person or organization.” In the common tongue, “range” or “portfolio” also means “pie chart with a lot of slices.”
So how is that possible that Kate Wallace doesn’t understand that Polk’s pie chart, which she published, is a “portfolio”? How can Wesley Beck, Jeff Chamberlain, David Hallock and Ruling Class Class Club not know this basic fact about the vast civic function in which they want to dabble? Did they not edit their own commissioned work?
Here’s a question that a real “white paper” would set out to answer if the Lakeland Leads guys were serious about education rather than positioning themselves within Ruling Class Club:
How is it that the Lakeland Leads “portfolio model” that has already dominated Polk County for a generation has failed so spectacularly that Kate Wallace feels the need to insult everybody subjected to that portfolio model as bottom-feeders?
Dear Ruling Class Club: Team Wesley Barnett is more promising and humane than Team Kate Wallace
It’s fascinating to read this Lakeland Leads report, in which for-profit charter school chains figure vaguely but prominently, in light of a different point-of-view recently expressed by Wesley Barnett in a text he sent to me a few days after the election. (Wesley Barnett is not to be confused with Wesley Beck of Lakeland Leads.)
“Believe it or not we have no interest in for-profit charter schools. I want better schools across the board in Polk County,” Wesley texted me during a discussion.
I’m not sure exactly sure who “we” is in that text; but it’s not Kate Wallace. Like all of the report, the charter school stuff is pretty murky and euphemistic; but she clearly holds some hope of getting some chain to open a school here. If that ever happens, it’s a much much smaller deal operationally than most people think, whichever side you take. I’ll explain why in a different piece.
But politically, Team Wesley Barnett’s, “Believe it or not we have no interest in for-profit charter schools. I want better schools across the board in Polk County” is in a different universe than what Lakeland Leads is selling, for a host of reasons. Again, we’ll come back to that later.
Despite their for-profit charter school differences, Team Kate and Team Wesley were both anti-Team Billy in the election. After all, I am the great Unifier. So you may or may not be surprised that I’ve engaged in extensive and civil discussions with both of them about education and other issues with both in recent months/years. (By contrast, the Lakeland Leads funders weren’t interested.)
To be blunt, Wesley’s a lot more fun and interesting and thoughtful to talk to than Kate. He’s far more capable of listening rationally and engaging an idea that isn’t his own. And I think he’s a much better potential friend to the type of meaningful investments in capacity and humane change that are the only path forward for fixing a dead educational model here and in Florida.
Yes, there is that small matter of his wife and dad funding public “Billy is a racist who hates civics and threatens Trump voters” campaign lies at scale. But what’s a husband and son to do? And I don’t take insults personally, especially if they’re stupid.
I’d rather encourage and engage Wesley’s better instincts.
Let’s talk honestly to concentrated capital and the inheritocracy
I sought out and engaged Kate and Wesley, long before any election action, because they are the children and/or possessors of concentrated capital. Because of that capital, they are both far more likely to have influence over the direction of the Polk School District than William Allen.
And one of the real problems in Lakeland and Polk County is that the people who possess the most concentrated capital lack basic knowledge about basic public functions. Even, more importantly, as a class, they lack intellectual curiosity or critical thinking about them. That is the luxury that concentrated capital affords its possessors — power without responsibility or knowledge.
That’s why this Lakeland Leads report became nothing more than corporate welfare for Kate Wallace, a child of Polk County privilege who only recently decided to return home and start insulting the people who do the hard work every day — for which she is paid much much more than those people she insults.
Lakeland Leads didn’t want or demand anything better. It wasn’t curious enough to know what something better might have been. So it got what it paid for, through the soft bigotry of low expectations.
That is Ruling Class Club in all its glory.
Ruling Class Club, especially its concentrated capital, is good at making parking garage deals and building monument parks and funding lies at scale in elections. It is good at perpetuating, indulging, and enabling the wide-ranging inheritocracy that holds outsized power in our community. And neither the concentrated capital nor the inheritocracy is going anywhere in the immediate term. So we better engage and shape them to whatever extent possible.
I would like both concentrated capital and the inheritocracy to get better at governing. I would like them to get better at commissioning/executing useful civic reports or engaging productively and unselfishly in vital governing and civic systems.
That’s why I’ve always sought honest and direct conversations with concentrated capital, long before I was elected or unelected to anything. It’s why we still have long direct conversations ahead of us. Concentrated capital is power. In Lakeland, make no mistake, concentrated capital and the inheritocracy are your city decisionmakers, not the City Commission.
If we want concentrated capital and the inheritocracy to be better, we have to talk to them and engage them however we can. They are rarely told the truth by anyone because of the power they wield. And they generally have the luxury of ignoring people who annoy them. That is as corrosive to them as people as it is to their communities.
Everyone can learn
The Lakeland Leads “white paper,” and its striking lack of ambition or insight, helps shape that conversation. It does so by luxuriating in a dead past and offering nothing to address the actual real-world problems Polk County and Florida face today and in the future.
That is also a very Ruling Class Club thing to do.
Indeed, I fully expected this report to produce the glossy irrelevance of ignorant capital. And that’s what I got. It’s nice not to be disappointed.
But let’s raise the expectations, shall we.