Dear Gov. DeSantis and education leaders: bail out kids, educators, and human connection; not Big Test and JebWorld

Operating schools at all financially in the near-term future presents an equal challenge to deciding when it's safe to open them. So how districts decide to spend every future dime is a crucial, emergency decision moving forward.

That's especially true in Florida, a state dependent on tourists to help fund our basic services. I am already hearing anecdotes of Polk principals warning various employees that they won't have the budget to afford them next year, assuming next year comes.

Thus, if your Polk County School Board ever meets again (more on that in a moment), I will propose that we freeze every single dime Polk spends on compliance with broken state testing and fraudulent "accountability."

Bail out kids, educators, and human connections; not Big Test and fake accountability

I will propose that we redirect all state compliance/accountability spending -- all of it -- to preserving and developing the classroom experience and the education workforce.

I want Polk County to redirect all fraudulent "accountability" compliance spending to supporting the human relationship between students and the adults that serve them in their schools.

We could still use "data."

The people working in our district "accountability" and data office are quite good. They can provide localized, diagnostic, honest data built to serve children. I don't want them wasting time and money and talent on mindless and expensive compliance with the tactics Richard Corcoran and Kelli Stargel use to try kill public education and the teaching profession. Let's be done temporizing with the teacher-hating grifters in a time of existential crisis.

And don't kid yourselves; these are the types of financial and moral choices local districts are going to have to make for some time to come.

In Polk County schools, when the federal education bailout emerges (which it must), I want us to be clear: are we going to bail out the testing-and-punishing industry, an industry that richly deserves death? Or are we going to bail out children, teachers, paras, bus drivers, custodians, etc? Are we going to build human capacity in the education system? Or just indulge the same model of number-rigging and scarcity.

I know where I stand. Each Polk County board member should make it clear where they stand, if we ever meet again. (More on that in a moment.)

Emergencies create their own practical realities and powers

But wait, Billy: wouldn't such a local decision to reallocate money violate state law? Yes, sure. So did closing schools in the first place. So did cancelling testing this year. So did allowing virtual meetings.

The governor has emergency powers. He used them.

We're not going to fully emerge from this double-sided virus/financial emergency any time soon. The virus and the funding are both emergencies that will continue to unfold no matter how hard politicians try to wish them away and "re-open" everything without a vaccine. Thank goodness for the Federal Reserve, America's investment/sustenance bank.

Moreover, re-establishing the FSA and Florida's fraudulent accountability system next year will be essentially impossible. The pandemic has blown up all the baselines and bullshit statistical models used to harm kids anyway. For instance, how would Florida's murderous third-grade retention laws work now?

COVID threw a rod on the test-and-punish engine, which in turn blew up the entire engine. You can't just fix the rod; so it's time for a whole new engine.

I'd like to talk about that with my fellow board members, if they can ever be bothered to meet. (More on that in a moment.)

“Even if it’s for a couple of weeks, we think there would be value in that.”

I happen to think Gov. Ron DeSantis might endorse my view on this -- even though his Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and the Kelli Stargels of the world clearly would not. Why do I think this? Well, listen to what he said Friday:

The governor had previously ordered public schools closed through May 1 to help stop the spread of the new virus.

DeSantis said Thursday that order remained in place, but he added he thought a return to traditional classrooms would be best for most children and families and hoped that would happen this school year.

“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.”

Hmmmm. When is the last time a Florida Republican official with power said anything like that about traditional public school classrooms. Even if it’s for a couple of weeks. Value. LoL. It's amazing what a few weeks without mass free child care will do to focus the political mind.

Modern American capitalism is only now starting to realize that public education is the sine qua non of its existence. That's a consequence of modern American capitalism imagining that teachers and schools are delivered by some magical education fairy or stork. Or created in a lab. Or with a voucher.

The knights of modern American political capitalism are waking up to their dilemma: they hate public schools because of "free market capitalism"; and they can't live without public schools because of "free market capitalism."

Look no further than Ron DeSantis and his cabinet for an illustration of this paradox. I would like to have this same discussion with my fellow board members, if they could be bothered to meet. (More on that in a moment.)

Who is this "we" you speak of, governor?

Let's interrogate the "we" in this crucial, crucial sentence from the governor: “Even if it’s for a couple of weeks, we think there would be value in that.”

Who are you talking about, governor? Who's the "we"? You and me?

Because you're obviously not talking about your own Commissioner of Education and the entire dead JebWorld apparatus of Step Up for Students, Jeb's Foundation, etc. that you empowered for some unfathomable reason.

You better go talk to Corcoran and John Legg, because they think they're living their dream of vouchers + "cheap test-and-punish-at-home on screens for poor kids forever."

What we're living through right now is their fantasy model -- or at least what they imagine as their means to their final fantasy end. Fake test accountability + cheap vouchers + cheap distance-screen-learning is their template for blackmailing hundreds of thousands of kids and families out of actual schools.

Remember, governor, your education commissioner wants to cut public school capacity by two-thirds

I wrote about this just two months ago. Key quote from the Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna:

“I met several months ago with the commissioner of education and he made no bones about it. He sees nothing wrong with cutting our traditional public school system by two-thirds,” said Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna.

It's absurd to think a person as incompetent as Corcoran can pull that off on the strength of JebWorld's last dying breath. The mechanism for destruction is so impractical as to defy imagination.

My guess is that they'll just try to say there's no state money for a real school system -- which there probably isn't (will come from the Fed) -- and say: "Sorry, you just have to get used to test-and-punish Florida Virtual for All. Eventually a few thousand rich white kids will get to see a human teacher and each other in the flesh again. Wish we could do better. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Thanks for all those meals and the amazing human connection you cobbled together as a life-line for kids."

That's not going to work; but don't underestimate the grandeur of their delusions, governor. They're going to try it anyway, if you don't cut them loose. They're going to do it in your political name; on your political capital, such as it is. And you will take the blame for it. Trust me on that. I will help you take the blame, in Polk County and wherever else I can, if it comes to that.

You don't need to be Corcoran's minion, governor

The education grifters you appointed and empowered don't care about the blame you take on their behalf for their bonkers -- and wildly unpopular -- ideas/grifts.

They 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.

To keep grifting, Corcoran and JebWorld need you to believe that everyone is desperate to escape from their public school to Kingdom Prep/Akellyn's Angels and self-selecting choice schools. They need you to believe that "most parents" who "want" traditional public schools are bad parents. They need you to believe that a 61 percent 2-year voucher rejection rate is fine.

Corcoran and JebWorld will sacrifice you in a second, governor, just like they have teachers and everybody else for a generation, to keep those malicious lies alive. Believe that. They have no choice because they have no other ideas.

Remember what they have produced during their generation in power without ever indulging a moment of self-criticism: a chronic teacher shortage and America's worst test score performance growth in America's most test-obsessed state. They're not going to change now; because they'd have to answer for it.

Cut them loose, governor; and join our "we." You owe JebWorld nothing.

You're already on the ropes because of their incompetence and malevolence in the broken unemployment system, governor. Why would you take more blame for them in the coming months?

Do you think your master, the president, wants a big political fight in September/October about the future existence of schools in Florida? Do you think kids and parents returning, if we can return, want to spend the year stressing themselves out to catch up in a fake data race built on fraud that is now broken anyway?

Do you think your master, the president, wants Betsy DeVos imposing sanctions on Florida on the fall because we tell the federal government that we're going to have an untested year to rebuild and replenish? Do you think Jared Kushner wants that fight?

Do what's moral and popular and good education policy. Cut Jeb-and-Corcoran-world loose and embrace your own political instincts:

“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.”

You're right. There would be human value in returning to school for two weeks if coronavirus miraculously disappeared. But it's not going to. Look at what happened in Singapore, which you foolishly cited as a model just days ago.

Grown-ups can't afford mindless wishful thinking; and we can't return to physical school this year because it's irresponsible and unsafe for kids, adults, the health care system, and the wider community. That sucks. It's time to be a grown-up about it.

If you want to give people hope and normalcy, governor, start thinking about how we can truly reopen schools this fall -- through health, financial, and human development lenses. Think about what reopened school means to kids and the public. How do we transform it into a resource for human development, not the dead JebWorld, fake-data fraud it was before the pandemic killed it?

Your judgement is bad, governor; but your instinct is right. Follow your own logic. Find the bigger "we." Call me. I can help you.

In the meantime, I'll be trying to explain this logic to the Polk County School Board, if it can ever be bothered to meet. (More on that in a moment.)

What if FSBA and FADSS declared an untested year?

Imagine if the Florida School Board Association (FSBA) and Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS) were to issue this joint statement sometime in the near future:

"Dear DoE and Legislature:

As professional education leaders and the elected education representatives of the public, FADSS and FSBA declare that whenever it is safe to reopen physical schools, we are going to operate them on these terms:

  • We will prioritize spending on the human and classroom experience -- on meeting kids where they are now, in a COVID world, and developing them. This is far more important to our children and communities than "accountability" and compliance with state mandates built for an era that is now gone.

  • All assessments and "data"-collection will be used diagnostically for children. This data will not be used to punish the teaching force that just created a meaningful distance learning experience out of whole cloth, with little guidance or help from leaders. Our teachers didn't need fraudulent VAM to rise to the occasion for our kids during the pandemic. All spending that does not support their human mission will be frozen.

  • We will have an untested year while a consortium of our experts, under the auspices of FADSS and FSBA, comes up with a new quality assessment for human performance within schools. The pandemic has broken our existing data baselines and systems anyway. Now is the year to remake them.

We realize these points may run contrary to the laws and mandates and rules the Legislature and DoE created in a bygone era. We are hopeful that state education leaders and lawmakers can recognize as quickly as we have that the pandemic ended the era that has prevailed in Florida since 1998.

It's time to build anew. We see these actions as consistent with the governor's emergency powers in closing schools and cancelling testing last year.

However, we also acknowledge that the ruling handed down by Gov. DeSantis' judges in the 7069 lawsuit gives DoE and state government the full power to overrule us. You can re-implement the dead "test-and-punish" model with DoE's vast staff-power.

Should the state choose to disagree with the judgment of superintendents and locally-elected school boards, we, of course, can't stop you. It would be up to you how many schools to close or take over -- and what punishments to inflict with your staff.

Should you choose to remove all of us from power and fine us and put us in jail because we do what's best for the kids or our communities and not your testing companies, we can't stop you. We're just telling you our intentions, as experts in our field. You certainly own all power and governing responsibility, as your victory in the lawsuit made clear.

Have a nice day.

If any version of that letter ever goes out, the Florida Model is truly dead. Neither Jeb's foundation nor Richard Corcoran could stand up to that for a second. Think about it; that's all it would take. No DoE flunky is gonna remove fine Alberto Carvalho or remove him from office. They might get me; but it would be worth it.

How desperate is the governor of Florida to get kids out of their houses/apartments and back into classrooms for the sake of social, economic, and political normalcy?

He's daydreaming about jamming them back into classrooms for two weeks at the end of May amid a just-peaked pandemic. That's how desperate.

He will be that desperate in September too, when funding --- as well as virus -- poses a massive hurdle to reopening. He will be advocating for big federal money, because state money isn't going to exist in a balanced budget setting. If we education leaders don't shape that advocacy and use that desperation to protect our kids and education workforce from shameless grifters, shame on us. All of us.

Do you think DeSantis would shut everything down and fire everybody over a unanimously, locally-declared untested year? Over a unanimous local declaration that kids and educators are more important to fund with limited dollars than VAM calculations and "turnaround" punishments?

This is the same governor who campaigned on "80 percent to the classroom." Remember that? FADSS and FSBA should help him remember. It's a great chance to call on DeSantis to perform an emergency wipeout of every counterproductive and inhumane thing DoE does or demands. I'm sure FADSS and FSBA can provide a list if they choose to.

Portraits of compliance addiction: FSBA's Kim McDougal and FADSS'/Sen. Bill Montford

Unfortunately, as of today, FADSS and FSBA remain addicted to compliance with grifters. Let me show what I mean:

Kim McDougal: "like fixing a car"

Keep in mind, FSBA's "lobbyist" is Kim McDougal, who was Rick Scott's chief of staff. Check her out here. Remember this exchange with education activist Ted Dintersmith:

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: [Dintersmith]: 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.

As Kim says, she was "important to the governor."

One might think she could have found the time to tell him that the unemployment system he jammed into place to hurt people is a crushing human disaster. She could have taken a moral or operational stand about it, rather than just taking his money.

Because unlike the human development of education, Kim, processing unemployment claims for thousands and thousands of suffering people is, in fact, "like fixing a car." It's a simple mechanical issue in digital form. It is pass/fail. And it failed. You failed. We paid $78 million for an unemployment system that does not function. How's that for a standardized test?

“It’s a sh-- sandwich, and it was designed that way by Scott,” said one DeSantis advisor. “It wasn’t about saving money. It was about making it harder for people to get benefits or keep benefits so that the unemployment numbers were low to give the governor something to brag about.”

Republican Party of Florida chairman Joe Gruters was more succinct: “$77 million? Someone should go to jail over that.”

Understand, the current lead lobbyist of the FSBA owns that "sh--sandwich" a million percent.

By contrast, the local public school teachers, leaders, support staff, and technology people that Kim McDougal is supposed to serve built a humane, functioning, online temporary human connection and learning system in two weeks with no help from people like Kim McDougal. They built a feeding system with no help from people like Kim McDougal.

You should have the good taste to retire from public life in shame, Kim. Go try your own luck with your unemployment system.

So much for the CONNECT website updates,🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️I can now log in, but can't fill out a claim for Florida unemployment @FLDEO pic.twitter.com/j0oQr6NUpA

— Tonya Olson (@tonyakolsondpt) April 9, 2020

Do you really agree, Sen. Montford and local superintendents?

And something very small, but really interesting and telling, happened with FADSS (the superintendents association) in the last week.

It started when educator Ron Clark tweeted this about the online learning that teachers were creating:

There will be no high stakes testing this year, and yet all over America educators have continued to teach and inspire their students online. I hope the powers that be realize we do what we do because we love children and not because a test is held over our heads.

— Ron Clark (@mrronclark_) April 4, 2020

The official FADSS twitter account retweeted Clark with a very supportive statement: something like "we totally agree." I can only try to remember because I didn't screen shot it; and FADSS deleted that tweet. Why?

Most likely, that's because I retweeted FADSS with this question in an effort to explore the extent of the superintendent organization's agreement with Ron Clark and me.

Really? You totally agree? Well then, will you join me and the vast majority of Floridians to see that the toxic test-and punish fraud of an education model NEVER returns to Florida. Will you make that moral commitment right now, Sen. Montford? https://t.co/WD4YChrIbV

— Billy Townsend (@BillyTownsendEd) April 5, 2020

Sen. Montford is Bill Montford, who is both a Democratic state senator from northwest Florida and the chief executive officer of FADSS. Put aside the ridiculous and obvious conflict that holding those two positions simultaneously presents; Montford isn't any good at either job.

He is supposedly "our man at the table," fighting the good fight for local districts or public education or something. I've seen no evidence of that whatsoever; and I've seen a lot of pointless selling out.

And I have to say: I find it funny, but not surprising, that a mouthy dude with exactly 889 Twitter followers intimidated FADSS into silence because he wanted to see how strongly we might agree on a sentiment we both retweeted. Keep fighting for us, senator.

So no, I've never had much confidence that Sen. Montford serves as anything but a willing meal at that "table" we hear so much about. Twitter sentiments win and accomplish nothing on their own.

Your Polk County School Board, as a body, is too disinterested to assert its power on your behalf. But this individual board member is not.

McDougal and Montford reflect the priorities of their membership. It's unclear how much the pandemic has altered those priorities; but I'm quite interested in exploring that question. McDougal and Montford are not, I assure you.

And thus you see some of the state-level hurdles to weaponizing FADSS and FSBA in the service of saving public education and reinforcing its role as an engine of human development and reinvigorated American capitalism.

The best way to overcome those hurdles is to work from the elected local School Board level upward with urgent advocacy. To make it clear to FADSS and FSBA leadership that priorities are changing by the minute.

Unfortunately, your Polk County School Board isn't interested in this conversation or advocacy. Your Polk County School doesn't see any of what I've talked about as urgent. And now I'm going to wrap up by talking about that.

"...no items of an emergency nature?" Really?

Bottom line: a majority of your Polk County School Board members, who are paid $40,000/year-plus and given access to health care that does not have a premium, cannot be bothered to meet at an accelerated cadence to discuss the millions of COVID-related implications that fall under our admittedly nebulous responsibilities and powers. I do not know what specific form that majority of board members takes. Is it 6-1; 4-3? I don't know; I just know I'm not in it.

I have repeatedly asked for regular weekly board conference calls that the public can access, consistent with the governor's emergency guidance. Here is the formal answer to that, as communicated by the School Board Attorney last week. Note the part in bold:

Special meetings may be called by the Superintendent, the Chair, or by request of a majority of the members of the School Board.

There is a regularly scheduled meeting of the School Board on 28 April, 2020, which meets the statutory requirement for meetings. The Chair requested that this meeting be moved forward to the 14th of April, but the Superintendent advised that the items scheduled to be on the agenda for the meeting on the 28th are not ready to be presented on the 14th. The Superintendent has also indicated that a majority of the members of the School Board have not requested a change to the meeting schedule.

To-date, no items of an emergency nature have been identified, which would trigger the need for an emergency meeting of the School Board. Emergency meetings may be called by the Superintendent, the Chair, or a majority of the members of the School Board when there is an immediate danger to public health, safety, or welfare that requires immediate action.

A majority of your School Board does not believe any of what I have discussed in this article meets the threshold of "items of an emergency nature." I find that absurd.

Remember, I opened this essay with this passage:

Operating schools at all financially in the near-term future will provide an equal challenge to deciding when it's safe to open them. So how districts decide to spend every dime is a crucial, emergency decision moving forward.

That's especially true in Florida, a state dependent on tourists to help fund our basic services. I am already hearing anecdotes of Polk principals warning various employees that they won't have the budget to afford them next year, assuming next year comes.

Thus, if your Polk County School Board ever meets again (more on that in a second), I will propose that we freeze every single dime Polk spends on compliance with broken state testing and fraudulent "accountability."

If you agree with me that these issues represent an emergency, I would urge you to call your local board members (you vote for all of them) and get them on-the-record publicly as to why they agree or disagree.

And get them to tell you exactly what is they think they owe you for the $40,000-plus no-premium heath insurance you provide them.