DeSantis dumps Jeb. Delicious, far-reaching chaos ensues.

Making sense of the anti-Big Test *political* bombshell from Florida that wiped out 25 years of GOP education and "liberal reform" policy rhetoric in one bold, panicky presser.


I have never generated a meme before. I certainly never expected to make this one. I mean, it’s problematic, I know. However, I don’t think my humble words can quite match its simple, stunning emotional truth in conveying the earthquake that was yesterday in education politics.

On the same day that Gavin Newsom’s “Don’t DeSantis my California” anti-recall campaign touchdown-danced all over America’s goofiest Republicans with vaccines and school mask mandates …

… DeSantis tried get ahead of the fallout by announcing he is ripping the deeply unpopular high stakes testing foundation out of the dead Florida Model of education — at least rhetorically.

DeSantis announced Florida will end the high stakes, high-stress, end-of-year standardized test that Jeb pioneered and exported to the rest of America in one of our few examples of home-grown Florida industry. (It was first called the FCAT, then the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA).) The new mechanism of evaluation will come from some sort of on-line, state-constructed “progress monitoring” platform.

The stressful, painful high stakes end-of-year test is the cornerstone of the Jeb/Obama “reform” model that has strangled the delivery, capacity-development, and experience of public education for 25 years. And yesterday was the worst day for Big Test, as education writer Peter Greene calls it, in my adult lifetime. It was glorious.

It wasn’t the “policy” that was announced, which wasn’t a policy at all. As much as he would like to be, DeSantis is not dictator. All of this has to run through the Legislature. What truly mattered yesterday was the trash talked about Big Test from Big Test’s biggest proponents and top grifters. Here’s the Tampa Bay Times story and a key excerpt:

“I want more learning and less test prep,” DeSantis said at a second news conference in Clearwater. “You can do this in a much more effective way.”

And then this from Richard Corcoran, America’s most test-and-punish positive education commissioner:

“From April to May, we basically shut down schools for testing,” he said.

He said the faults of standardized testing became evident during the first full school year of the pandemic, when results from Florida Standards Assessments were not counted, but schools were using progress monitoring.

Corcoran also called Big Test “archaic.” To which Patricia Levesque answered: Et tu, Dick?

As a writer trying to shape public opinion and direct it toward driving better human outcomes in education and beyond, one does not get many better experiences from opposing power than: “Yeah, you’re right,” in public, with consequences attached, whether power is sincere in its agreement or not. Thus, yesterday was good.

And I hope all of the pro-public education activists and education warriors and opt-out champions who have battled and suffered and been submerged beneath this toxic unturnable battleship since way before I ever got involved can take a day or two to enjoy this complete ideological and narrative victory as we all prepare to exploit it. Activism struggling against malevolent power, to be sustainable and strong, must celebrate victories and always seek to seize initiative.

So yes, this announcement comes with 6 billion questions and massive high stakes screen time peril. Yes, we still have very potent enemies. I’m with you. Here is an excellent rundown on that from my good friend and education warrior Kathleen Oropeza.

And no, this announcement does not mean DeSantis is good.

It means he’s weak; and he’s looking to our issues to become strong.

That’s daring, (maybe smart) politics for him; but it’s a massive massive moral and policy opportunity for us. In a toxic, autocratic, corrupt system, where political existence depends on never blinking, we just got the biggest political blink I could have imagined.

DeSantis and Corcoran just publicly acknowledged that Jeb Republicanism has essentially destroyed the education experience in Florida. Will Democrats and independents and pro-public education Republicans now fight to win the rebuilding and strengthen the schools that anchor our shared communities?

Here are some thoughts about that, in no particular order.

1) “Even Ron DeSantis…” The governor has put every Republican in Florida — and probably America — on the hook politically for delivering a “test-free,” humane public education experience.

Shortly after I won my Polk County School Board seat in 2016 — on the same night as Trump -— I wrote an essay about “test-and-punish,” and “Common Core.” Those phrases have become the epithets used by the “left” and “right” respectively for the same basic human experience of public education. (On the far Saga Stevin-right, “Common Core” also carries some anti-history, anti-CRT-type culture war connotation, as we’ve seen recently.)

Writing this essay helped me lose my re-election narrowly because I criticized Trump openly in a reddish county and local Big Money used it against me effectively for its own personal reasons. So what. I’m still very proud of that essay’s insights on education experience and politics; and its arguments are popular and winning. It’s worth re-reading in full, but here’s the key excerpt:

I believe nothing mattered more to the entire presidential campaign than Donald Trump's brutal primary defeat of Jeb Bush using Common Core. And nothing mattered more to mine. I also believe that if Florida had pursued Finland's humane and caring model of education two decades ago, rather than Jeb Bush's toxic stress-based education system, we would not have a Trump presidency. I know I would never have run for Polk County School Board…

…public education in America -- and especially Florida -- is a toxic stress machine for the grandchildren of Trump voters. And it's especially toxic for the Democratic party's base of young people and their parents in traditional zoned schools. They experience the reality of Common Core/test-and-punish/teacher shortages every day. And we wonder why they're not more enthusiastic about technocratic government. Even when we tell them to clap louder because the other guy is scary.

Of course, Trump didn’t care about education and never got around to realizing that you kill can’t kill the Common Core “feeling” or “experience” without killing high stakes testing. DeSantis has more intellectual horsepower. He knows.

And DeSantis is the true functional leader of the national Republican Party. (Trump is just the weird cultish guru with the emotional power). That functional leader just told Republican legislators like Melony Bell, Manny Diaz, Chris Latvala, Dennis Baxley, Colleen Burton, and Jennifer Canady (presumably): “You know all that stuff Billy told ya’ll to do. He was right. Go do it.” If only Kelli was still around. DeSantis will campaign in ‘22 and ‘24 as the guy who really killed Common Core as an experience, not just complained about some standards.

DeSantis’s hyping of his own announcement — “this is big,” they said — means he is promising a massive change in school experience by killing a de-humanizing test experience that is almost universally hated by all parties, races, and creeds. That test experience also embodies a detached, bi-partisan American elite.

I suspect that universal hatred of Florida/American test culture is why DeSantis is targeting it the day after he had an anti-vax debacle on live TV and on the same day an assertively pro-vax governor romped by running openly against Florida and DeSantis.

Testing is about the one place DeSantis can go for broad popularity and a change of subject that his anti-vax, anti-mask, anti-lib base won’t angrily object to. He’s making a play for my 2016 coalition — which won me 60 percent of the vote against a formidable opponent Republican in a red county. He’s making that play for my 2016 coalition with some big promises.

To reneg on that new, improved experience in the next six months after promising it, … , well, that wouldn’t be great politics, I wager.

2) Democrats in Florida and DC will have to answer. Start by killing this year’s FSA, which DeSantis has made completely superfluous and time-wasting. And kill mass 3rd grade retention once and for all.

There is absolutely no reason, at all, in a third pandemic-affected year, amid Delta carnage and chaos, to take a standardized test that everyone not employed by Jeb Bush’s foundation now agrees is a complete waste of time and stress.

Paging Joe Biden and Miguel Cardona and Gwen Graham and Anna Eskamani and Shevrin Jones — there is low-hanging fruit here. What possible argument can there be to subject kids and teachers to this test this year? Make Republican power tell you no.

And what possible reason can there be to keep mass 3rd grade retention, which depends entirely on the FSA, and only exists to harm children to game the 4th grade NAEP — another “archaic” standardized Big Test?

3) No, fraudulent school grades cannot “stay the same.” Start preparing the battlefield now.

A number of people immediately cautioned that Corcoran said all the other stupid Florida accountability stuff will stay the same. From the Tampa Bay Times:

Though the assessments would go away, other elements of Florida’s school accountability system would remain the same, including school grades, turnaround plans for struggling schools and teacher evaluations based partly on student performance, education commissioner Richard Corcoran said during DeSantis’ Clearwater stop.

Um, nope.

One day reporters will learn that if Corcoran’s mouth is moving, the emerging sounds bear no connection to meaning. What he does is beyond lying. It’s a kind of elite toadyism untethered to anything but the momentary interests of the king who grants him power that he lacks any capability to generate himself.

I’m sure the phrase “school grade” is likely to remain. But in reality, here is what killing the FSA does to Florida’s fraudulent school grade equation.

It wipes out almost the entirety of the fraudulent elementary school grade structure and giant chunks of everything else. It wipes out just about everything tied to “data-driven performance.”

Everything, starting with the very definition of “achievement” and “gains,” is up for grabs and subject to an utterly chaotic political process now. Fight. out. everything.

4) Grade voucher schools. Grade selective schools (magnet and charter) against each other in a separate category. Stop saying 62 = A.

If you want a deep dive on the pure, unadulterated, anti-human fraud of school and district grades, I’d encourage you to read this article, which has links to two other deep dives on the moral and technical fraud of school and district grades that I’ve written.

Public Enemy Number 1
A 62 gets "leaders" an "A" and kids a low "D": Florida's school grade fraud as American metaphor
Take a good look at the A-F grade scale Florida tells teachers to use for kids. Then look at it side-by-side with the A-F scale Florida uses for school and school district “grades.” Notice anything odd about the scale for kids and the scale for educational leaders…
Read more

But here is the existing fraud of school and district grades in two images I created:

The one above speaks for itself. The one below is much more complex and explained in the article. But note in the far left column how the colors show that district grades move up or down just about in unison each year — as if they all decide to do well or to suck at the same time. That is fraud. The state determines, though cut scores and test chicanery, the direction school and district grades go each year in the aggregate.

This is not a system worth trying to save. There are many many ways to overhaul it completely if killing it isn’t an option.

5) The new state-level progress monitoring platform will be a grifters paradise of fail; and DeSantis and Republicans will own it in an election year.

DeSantis said he wants a progress monitoring system that is standardized, centralized, owned by the state, and able to be personalized somehow. LOL. And I want to be Tom Brady.

Anybody who has had to take a state test on a state computer platform — or had to deal with the state unemployment system — knows that this state government cannot implement its way out of paper bag.

The first new “high stakes progress monitoring” readout should happen some time in Fall ‘22, at the height of the governor’s campaign. Also, somebody’s gonna get paid to build that thing. All that will be fun to report on, if not experience.

6) DeSantis must have much worse private polling than even the public polling.

My first reaction to this announcement was to admire its chutzpah: “DeSantis is not dumb or scared,” I said to a fellow writer. But I began to amend that as the day went on and it became clear to me that nobody important in Florida education seems to have gotten a heads up — that he didn’t have Jeb lined up for it somehow.

And I began to remember the California recall fail was happening — in which DeSantis and Florida were potent villains. And, as other people pointed out, he had a brutally bad anti-vax spectacle on TV the day before with people saying bonkers stuff about vaccines changing your RNA.

This now feels very haphazard and panicky to me — like trying to create a one-day spike of popular headlines that will now be stuck to him for the remainder of his term. I don’t know why he would unleash the forces he has unleashed, which divide the Republican party much more than any other political grouping, in this slipshod way, if he did not have some really, really bad polling on hand.

His public polling isn’t great; but I don’t think anything I’ve seen would justify this as a gambit to launch off the cuff from DeSantis’ point-of-view. So I will be very very interested the back story of how this announcement came to happen.

I now think this is “smart,” in a very tactical way that reveals serious concern about some serious strategic weakness.

7) Politicians are nothing more than individual human vehicles of power distribution and “public good” outcomes.

Don’t invest emotionally in their success or failure. Invest in yours. Yesterday was a good day for those of us invested in a better, more humane state and U.S. education system.

Let’s celebrate it; and then let’s create more good days.