Jeb Crow, pt. 5: Reformers, you long ago stopped being the good guys -- if you ever were. Will you join us now?
Help us end Big Test/Jeb Crow. We could create equity together by rebuilding the capacity you've helped bad people destroy. You may have to swallow some pride; but what's most important to you?
Part 1: Florida's voucher segregation factories imitate pre-Brown American education - only worse
Part 2: What "Jeb Crow" has wrought for FTC, McKay, and Gardiner kids -- and everybody else
Part 3: How to shop in a Jeb Crow voucher marketplace built to cheat and grift and harm your child
Part 4: The dark story of "Failure Factories" and "Schools without Rules" shows how power dominates education journalism, narrative, and humanity
Today is the final installment of this series, which evolved in its focus as I wrote it. And that has led me to change its name from “Segregation Factories” to “Jeb Crow.” That’s the title I want readers to take with them when they leave. I appreciate everyone who has read the first four pieces. I tend to ask a lot from readers in what I write because I respect readers very much; and I know it’s my job to make the complex and long fun to read. I hope I’ve done that here. And I hope this series serves as resource for a long time to come.
Adam Miller was the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice for nearly six years until July 2019. That gave him official state government oversight of both voucher schools and charter schools.
I had two substantive conversations with Miller during my time as an elected Polk County School Board member. One was strained because I was asking about the legality of a Polk charter school’s systemic dumping of black children. (Discovery, if you’re curious. A grumpy, morally-defensive ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ was Miller’s answer. )
The second conversation was extremely productive and useful — by far the best interaction I’ve ever had with a state official. I was deeply impressed by his good faith. Miller and I came up with a zoning/collaboration plan that could have “fixed” the one-of-a-kind charter/district divide in Lake Wales. But the unelected staff leadership of the Polk District and the Lake Wales Charter hated each other so much that even a DoE-blessed conceptual plan couldn’t get them to engage each other meaningfully. With both leaders moving on, perhaps there is opportunity for future progress.
Both discussions — one testy and one really productive — suggested to me that Miller is sincerely motivated by the moral instincts that once drove the so-called “reform movement” in education. And I suspect, in a different world, one not ruled by bipartisan Jeb Crow education power, he and I could work out a system that addressed both of our priorities without depending on systemic cruelty.
But that’s not the education or power world we live in.
Instead, I think Adam Miller illustrates how the toxic politics, career incentives, and lies of the Jeb Crow form of education trap reasonable, decent people in morally indefensible situations.
Serious “reformers” — those who actually mean it when they use the moral, racialized language of equity in justifying punitive policies that destroy public education capacity — know today that their entire life’s work is bullshit that failed on its own terms.
They know it. Every single one of them. Some of them will cry about America’s super awesome graduation rate; but, as a quality indicator, they know that’s manipulated data bullshit, too. Mostly, they’ve just gone silent while think tanks beg to keep getting useless test data and grifters use the language and weaponry “reformers” provided them to demolish public education capacity for everyone.
The question now: if, when, and how will “reformers” ever break their shamed silence about their failures and decide to help us fix them?
Jeb Crow means wealthier, whiter kids get high capital charters; more vulnerable, less white kids get no capital vouchers; and we kill/privatize public schools altogether
For those who haven’t read parts 1-4 of this series, “Jeb Crow” is the name I’ve given to the education ideology championed by the former Florida governor and enabled by all Democrats of power. It has dominated American and Floridian education for the entire 21st Century.
It reduces children to numbers with useless testing so society can: 1) easily sort them by identity/access to capital 2) grift the most vulnerable with public money; and 3) destroy the capacity to provide public education for everyone.
Jeb Crow poisons the humanity of every person it touches, well-meaning education reformers included.
Charter and voucher schools are fundamental to Jeb Crow, as is the national system of test-and-data sorting children that both require for marketing. People often confuse charter and voucher schools; but they are very very different.
Charter schools mimic real public schools — in capital, funding, and “accountability”; but they have no geographic zoning and no legal obligation to keep any student they enroll, which also makes them easy to leave if a family perceives a child isn’t really wanted. They generally do not deal with special needs children. ESE kids are too much work and too much risk for charter marketing — unless a charter is specific to ESE.
As a result, most charters (and all large charters) are engines of self-selection, exclusion, and dropping out that inflate aggregate test scores for the kids who apply to get in and don’t drop out. That’s difficult for a traditional zoned school to “compete” against. It also makes charter schools exponentially “better” for an individual child than voucher schools.
Voucher schools are almost all fly-by-night grifts run on nothing more than the cheap state vouchers kids bring with them. Voucher schools have no quality standards or oversight at all. They are largely a lifeboat for kids fleeing Florida’s standardized testing and mass third grade retention. As the Orlando Sentinel reported in its “Schools without Rules” reporting about Florida’s voucher school provider network:
Escaping high-stakes testing is such a scholarship selling point that one private school administrator refers to students as "testing refugees."
As a basic rule of thumb, charters have capital, which means they cater to wealthier, whiter, non-ESE enrollments. Voucher schools do not have capital, which means they target poor kids and kids of color and vulnerable kids of all kinds to grift them before pushing then back to public schools so their lagging tests scores can be weaponized again. That’s why Florida’s feature FTC low income voucher program has a 61 percent two-year drop out rate.
IDEA and other high drop out rate “Schools of Hope” charters should recruit from Florida’s terrible voucher schools
Adam Miller left DoE in July 2019 to take a job with the IDEA corporate charter school chain.
Today, he is shepherding a single, high drop out rate, IDEA charter school that the “Lakeland Leads” group (which is basically just Lakeland corporate lawyer David Hallock and Bartow heiress Kate Wallace) has championed as its only idea for enhancing education in Polk County.
IDEA is Polk’s first so-called “School of Hope” charter, a Richard Corcoran/state grift designed to help large, big money charter chains like IDEA strip mine “higher performing” kids from the zoned public schools that serve geographies and neighborhoods without much capital. Elected school boards have no power to reject these schools or dictate terms of their charter contract. The state government dictates basically everything in Jeb Crow Florida.
[The IDEA business model is going to struggle in Polk — and especially Lakeland. That’s because our stable “choice” layer of “conversion” charter schools and district-run magnet schools long ago strip-mined the kids that are going to help any IDEA school look good. Polk is a unique animal — and indicative of the statewide future of Jeb Crow. But that’s a different article.]
IDEA put Adam Miller and me in the same room a few weeks back for a discussion that related directly to both aspects of his old Department of Education job.
I brought a suggestion for Miller and IDEA: recruit from the “testing refugees” in Polk’s dreadful, segregated voucher schools.
More than 850 black children attend 16 segregated voucher “schools” in Polk County with populations more than 76 percent black children. Twelve of the 16 schools are 95 percent black or greater. The overall FTC low income voucher program that funds these schools has a 61 percent 2-year drop out rate. If “Schools of Hope” was a real thing, IDEA would try to fill this new school with these segregated voucher school kids who are very likely to bail on those schools.
IDEA recruiting from vouchers should fit right into the other beating heart of “reform” — moralized, racialized, finger-wagging rhetoric about equity of quality, defined entirely by the sortable test scores produced by broad racial groups of children. The very name “Schools of Hope” nods to the moral language of “reform.”
Indeed, you would think that segregated, public-voucher, high drop out rate schools that do not take high stakes standardized tests would enrage serious “reformers” and cause them to relentlessly criticize them on moral grounds. You would be wrong. I’ll tell you why in a moment.
I brought a list of the 16 schools and left it for Miller. I don’t know if he took it. We did not talk. Here is my brief little discussion. It’s just a couple of minutes.
My key quote:
There’s no capital in those [voucher] schools. If there’s one thing IDEA has, it’s capital. We’ve established that. They can fly on private jets and travel with some luxury. I think the kids that are in these 16 segregated voucher schools at a 61 percent 2-year-drop out rate would certainly benefit from some of the capital that IDEA can provide.
You could say the same thing about low capital, abusive ESE segregation that is rampant in voucher schools. And I can tell you that I would much prefer most voucher kids go to an IDEA school with capital like this:
…Than a voucher school like this in Lakeland:
With a tiny handful of exceptions, if you’re a low capital voucher kid, “private” does not mean Tampa Jesuit or Jacksonville Bolles or Lakeland Christian — not even close.
That’s not where your “escape the FSA test and 3rd grade retention” voucher is taking you. It’s taking you to schools like the one above, where you will be grifted.
IDEA could likely fill its Lakeland school with nothing but grifted voucher kids — both general education and ESE. But I promise you IDEA corporate has no interest in that. The truth is, where data is life and data is money — nobody wants kids that throw off bad data. IDEA doesn’t want to be a 61-percent drop out rate program’s lifeboat. That’s for public schools. You can’t market aspirational collegiate sales narratives with those test scores.
Jeb Crow voucher schools were Adam Miller’s “responsibility,” even though Step Up and the flying Tuthills had all the money and power
My own experience with Miller suggests he would happily fill his IDEA school with grifted, segregated voucher kids. He certainly knows intimately about the relative quality of both. He knows all about the low capital segregation and complete lack of oversight. In his previous role with DoE, there’s no way he couldn’t know.
So why didn’t he do anything about voucher grifting as a government official? I suspect it’s because he didn’t really have any power over vouchers. Adam Miller was not paid commission on vouchers sold; Step Up for Students was and is.
This paragraph from the new League of Women Voters study of Florida’s voucher business was breathtaking even for me. I knew Step Up was a giant, child-crushing, education-capital eroding grift - but even I didn’t realize quite how big:
The organization is called Step Up for Students (StepUpForStudents.org), an SFO (Scholarship Funding Organization) that awards and manages tax credit scholarships for the state of Florida, as well as in Alabama. According to Forbes, Step Up is the 21st largest charity in the United States. To put that in perspective, the American Cancer Society is 18th. In 2019 Step Up and Subsidiaries had $697,363,075 in total assets.
Comparable to the American Cancer Society. No government flunkie who isn’t suicidal is going to mess with that kind of privatizing power in Florida.
Any real effort to actually oversee voucher schools in a serious way would put Step Up out of business. Doug Tuthill knows this. And Doug Tuthill has much much much more juice within Jeb Crow and Democratic elite power structure than Adam Miller could ever dream of having.
Any real government effort to reform vouchers would kill them — the providers are that bad. Doug Tuthill would never allow Adam Miller to do that. Everybody involved knows it.
And if one of the million voucher scandals ever got real traction — grand jury level traction, Olympic gymnast-level traction, Matt Gaetz-level traction — non-government Step Up would blame government flunkie Adam Miller for failure to police these schools. I promise you that’s how that would go down. And whoever is in that role for DoE today should think long and hard about it.
Because understand this: the more ESAs and voucher expansion force people to look, the more likely a voucher scandal is to stick. This is especially true if politicians ever figure out that hanging “Voucher King” and the Florida Model of education on Ron DeSantis relentlessly will keep him from being elected president.
Everything is personal
I would be shocked if Adam Miller did not clearly perceive the personal vulnerability voucher schools presented him. The Tuthills certainly did. One of them, not Doug, reached out to me privately in an effort to get me to be less public about my critiques of their schools in 2019, based on my work about the Kingdom Prep voucher school that imploded after a headmaster called Pastor Tiger was arrested on sexual abuse charges.
(It took me about a week to figure out this particular Tuthill was acting in bad faith and had no intent to take any action to protect any kids from voucher grifting. I’m a trusting person, up to a point.)
I have no idea if my writing about Pastor Tiger and voucher schools — coupled with the Orlando Sentinel’s comprehensive “Schools without Rules” reporting — suggested to Miller that he might be safer in the private sector.
But I do know that everything is personal.
And if I were in his shoes, I would have been looking for a way out, too — for both personal well-being and moral reasons. My own decision to bail on paid journalism more than a decade ago was made for similar moral and personal preservation issues.
If you want a sense of where moral reformer Adam Miller, longtime director of Florida’s Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice, sits in the heirarchy of real power, go check out IDEA’s web site. He doesn’t even show up on IDEA’s massive list of leaders or regional board of directors. It’s not because they’re hiding him.
I suspect, without knowing, that Adam Miller’s position and livelihood with IDEA is precarious in the way a sales executive’s existence is precarious in any organization. So I don’t blame anybody for just trying to survive in America’s brutal and cruel education and journalism sectors. Everybody’s gotta eat.
“Reformers” have nothing to show for their 25 years in power but growing segregation and an active war of extermination against public education. And they know it.
National “reformers” writ large, so animated about racial justice in public education, so committed to the “moral” necessity of standardized testing, should have been screaming for years about Florida’s openly racially and ESE-segregated, public-voucher, high drop out rate schools that do not take high stakes standardized tests. DeSantis openly calls these atrocious schools “public schools,” for God’s sake.
But they can’t be bothered.
Here’s why: cross-partisan “reformers,” including Barack Obama and his top education officials, have been in a deep alliance with Jeb Bush and his education foundation for 25 years.
To publicly attack Florida’s vouchers morally as what they are is to attack Jeb Bush (America’s leading voucher champion) morally. To attack Jeb Bush morally is to attack Barack Obama morally. Attacking both morally, for a reformer, is to attack oneself, or at least hold oneself to account, morally.
I have never seen a serious education reformer (as opposed to Richard Corcoran-style grifters) do that. Ever. Not one. There is something in the personality type, which I’ll address in a moment. What you get instead (and again is different from the open grifters) is ear-splitting silence, willful ignorance, and a retreat to the distant structures of elevated status they’ve always enjoyed from which to snark at and/or judge little people.
There is some half-hearted grumpifying about “learning loss” and school campus openings, which is the only anti-union chestnut they can think to crack. The “reopening” debate will be forgotten by fall; and all the capacity issues will remain. They will be much worse in Florida, which has burned up its education people with this stupidly-designed year so that Ron DeSantis has a 2024 campaign theme to run on. (More on that in a different article.)
Overall, there would be no Jeb Crow without the active participation — and then silence — of sincere “reformers.” I think that describes Adam Miller — and quite a few “reformers” I know, who genuinely believed in the rhetoric they’ve leant to grifters for 25 years. Now they have no idea what to do.
I know what right wing “reform” cares about. I know what Richard Corcoran cares about: grifting and destroying public schools and teacher unions as political entities and ruling the ashes. They’re just trolls and grifters — trying to make a buck and wield power through education.
But I have no idea what “liberal reformers” even care about anymore except trash-talking unions. What is it? “Equity” as an empty empty empty slogan word? Nothing “reform” has championed has advanced equity — or done anything else helpful but kill education capacity, increase segregation in multiple forms, and maybe drive up graduation rates with nonsense and cheating.
Flip “reform” or purge it — there are no other options for public education’s survival
The question is what now?
We’re fighting to protect public education from a war of extermination waged by well-funded grifters using Florida as a model. We are self-destructive fools if we let any politician sit that war out.
So I’m on record saying that America desperately needs the people of public education to primary elite Democratic education power in the 2024 presidential election. I’m very happy with President Biden right now. He’s the best Democratic president of my lifetime so far. But he’s also the only person on the ballot who can answer for Arne Duncan and John King and the silence of “liberal” moral reformers.
Until Biden is willing to purge “reform” from education policy like he’s purged Larry Summers from economic policy, that 2024 primary is the only way to put Jeb Bush and “reform’s” toxic stranglehold on all education politics up for some kind of popular referendum.
Let me repeat: Jeb Bush and his foundation set national Democratic education policy and rhetoric. Period. Randi Weingarten answers to Jeb Bush. Whatever the new DoE secretary’s name is answers to Jeb Bush. Just like every other nominally Democratic party official working in education does. Indeed, Jeb Bush remains the most successful and dominant education politician in my lifetime — with disastrous effects. That is why powerful Democrats do not allow themselves to attack Jeb Crow with the moral, racialized, angry language they gleefully turn on teachers making $45,000 per year.
Until that social and political and rhetorical chain is broken, Jeb Bush will continue to use the Democratic Party to destroy public education — which is the core government function and good associated with the Democratic party; its most powerful potential tool of political organizing; and its most powerful potential wedge into Republican voters.
Education policy is the last bastion of toxic American “bipartisan consensus.” Somehow, Democratic party “reformers” have convinced themselves that the same exact people pursuing neo-Jim Crow voting laws care about “equity” and are deeply sincere and honorable allies in how they use testing and data sorting in Jeb Crow education.
Will serious, decent reformers with a platform keep choosing Jeb Bush and John King and Arne Duncan and Ron DeSantis and Richard Corcoran over those of us who recognize reform’s failure and bullshit — but generally share the stated moral goals of its sincere practitioners?
Those of us fighting against the grifter war of public education extermination share with serious “reformers” a moral commitment to social equity and the humanity of children. But we do not share “reformers'” self-justifying delusions or addiction to power or compulsion to destroy organized teachers from some weird need to have an enemy.
Can reformers acknowledge any of that and work with us?
Or are they just determined to elect Ron DeSantis president with 25-year-old lies about the Jeb Crow platform in 2024 — and use ESAs to grift the capacity of public education into oblivion for everyone, even rich people? Even their own kids. Is their pride that important to them?
“Reform” is the only leadership pot from which to pick
This question also relates directly to Polk County’s superintendent search. The criticisms I keep hearing about the various candidates — often from people who are my allies and friends — stem from the candidates’ connections to the “reform” world of education power. But that’s hardly surprising.
Indeed, it is likely impossible for any non-elected education staff member to hold a senior leadership position in any large district in America (and definitely Florida) with a record of denouncing and fighting Jeb Crow. That’s how powerful and dominant “reform” has been as a thing. I doubt that “I’m a big fan of Diane Ravitch” has ever showed up in any superintendent’s successful cover letter. Ever.
Elected boards always have to choose from among “reformers” — because “reform” power has dictated educational leadership pathways for a generation. Again, that is what real power looks like. Recognize it.
I understand that and do not hold that against Polk’s superintendent finalists. I care more about what they’ve learned and changed in their approach based on the abject failure of “reform.” There are many ways to communicate that in interviews that do not even require acknowledging the failure.
My main advice for Polk candidates is to signal and mean that you will be a halfway nice boss to your people. Make an effort to communicate and engage all board members as equally important elected officials — not factions to exploit for your advantage and security. If you can do that, you will be so far ahead of what this district has experienced for leadership in the last seven or eight years that it will be experienced as transformation.
You may think these basic leadership traits have nothing to do with “reform.”
But that’s not true — a key tenet of reform is that leaders must continually whip their lazy people into shape and that leaders must have wide latitude to apply force in that effort. Of course that leadership ideology gets turned into abuse and corruption and impunity. It’s time for all leaders to turn away from it.
The unsurrendered advantage of legitimate anger
I’m very fond of a quote from Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose education politics are difficult to categorize beyond “anti-segregation.” She has a sort of post-ideology ideology about schools and education, which is ironic given how much she’s hated in some circles for the 1619 project.
Anyway, this is perhaps the defining problem of education — and of humanity:
True integration, true equality, requires a surrendering of advantage, and when it comes to our own children, that can feel almost unnatural.
The right to feel and express moral anger publicly with the support of power is perhaps the most consequential emotional advantage in American society.
It’s fascinating and maddening to observe where America power allows anger to exist openly — where power indulges it. And where it does not. The people on the receiving end of what “education reform” has dished out for 25 years are mocked or condescended to or ignored or villainized when they express anger from the very real human feeling of their experiences. They are mocked by Arne Duncan as much as Richard Corcoran. Just read the Jonathan Chait and Matthew Yglesias twitter feeds.
Reformers never, ever turn that moral anger or seriousness on themselves — or treat someone else’s anger about the “reform” experience as legitimate. That’s an advantage too powerful for them to surrender. Again, a big part of it is the unwillingness to cross the feeding hand of the Jeb Bush/Arne Duncan industrial complex. That’s a powerful disincentive to reflection.
But there’s something deeper, too, about the reform personality’s relationship with human empathy and sympathy.
Only empathy, never sympathy
Here’s an example from a very talented Florida reformer/writer named Travis Pillow, who was, by far, Step Up for Students’ most effective advocate before taking a role with the “Center on Reinventing Public Education.”
Take a look at this recent little twitter exchange about what he “learned” from standardized testing.
I would never dismiss the legitimacy of someone’s lived experience. I am glad Travis found a “lifeline” in Big Test. But it does not seem to occur to him that thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of Florida 8-year-olds have a very different lived experience with bubble testing. Here’s what they learned and continue to learn from Big Test:
Despite what your teacher and parents say, precious 8-year-old, you are too stupid and useless to stay with your friends in school. Nobody cares how sad that makes you. Your teachers and parents who say you can amount to something are lying to you. The test says otherwise; and it doesn’t lie. It’s a “lifeline” for the good children — which you are not — because only bad children get punished. Also, we’re going to destroy your life and wreck your potential as a citizen and make you much less likely to graduate so that we can cheat on a different test, called the NAEP, next year.
Travis “does not know what it’s like” to experience this as a human being. He cannot empathize with this massive number of individual children. And he makes no effort to sympathize — which doesn’t mean “pity,” but rather “imagine a point-of-view outside of your lived experience.”
This is ironic because that crushing 8-year-old feeling — with which I cannot empathize, but with which I can sympathize with horror and sadness and anger — drives these children into Jeb Crow voucher schools where they are not tested and thus receive no supposed lifeline from Travis’ test.
Deep moral, religious, test-life-lining Travis was literally paid to praise the Jeb Crow schools that his life-line tests herded these children into so they could escape life-line tests. He did it really well, with that sincere moral veneer that reform paints on hideousness. In fact, I suspect Travis’ sense of morality, which I do not believe is an act, had something to do with his leaving the Step Up segregation factory.
One finds this empathy issue over and over again with moral language “reformers:” Robert Pondiscio’s “the Tiffany Test;” Jonathan Chait’s lionization of his wife’s charter school work; etc. In both my reading and my direct conversations with “reformers,” I find that personally felt anecdotes drive their moral systemic decision-making and rhetoric. They act only on that with which they can directly empathize or experience. They lack the moral imagination to perceive how their reaction to anecdote creates new and worse anecdote at scale. They don’t do sympathy.
Robert Pondiscio literally once wrote: “What about other kids is a poor response to the Tiffany Test.”
I don’t know if “reform” attracts this type of personality; or if this type of personality creates “reform.” But over and over again one sees how narrow attachment to empathy — which is, by definition, narrow and intense — allows reformers to ignore or reject anyone else’s feeling, to ignore or reject sympathy.
Their fetishization of empathy makes it easy to ignore what they do not see or personally experience. It lets them keep telling themselves they’re the good guys. They're not. Not even close.
But an alliance is always waiting
We all are subject to the intensity of personally-felt experience.
Indeed, the engine of this entire series is, to some degree, my personal reaction to the indulgent moralism in Travis Pillow’s Twitter voice on the day in August 2015 that Failure Factories was published.
As editor of Step Up for Students promotional website — called ReDefinEd — he ignored the segregation, just like the reporters themselves — and quickly turned to how to punish and exploit. I could hear the high-fiving at Step Up headquarters — before I even knew much about Step Up — as Travis feigned moral horror at the “trapped” children about to get sold vouchers to worse segregated schools without capital or accreditation or oversight or “lifeline” testing — and a 61 percent FTC program dropout rate.
I saw what power was going to do; and how journalism’s supposed check on power was going to turbocharge it. I saw how the language would be weaponized. I saw the next six years and counting laid out before us intensifying the worst of Jeb Crow that had already happened. I saw the public education war of extermination taking shape in real time.
I felt real anger that day in the way I feel real anger — a slow-burning, lips-pursed, memory-creating, purpose-sustaining kind of anger. I feel it today, recalling it.
I remember tweeting something at the whole Florida Model industrial complex — which is built to create no-capital segregation — that day: “You think this exonerates you?” or “You think this justifies you?”
They just ignored me — like everybody else. Unsurrendered advantage.
Getting rid of a terrible Polk superintendent and running for School Board weren’t even glimmers of my keyboard yet. I didn’t know about the 61 percent 2-year FTC voucher dropout rate at that time; and I probably never would have — absent that slow-burning anger born of sympathy for the human beings (most of them women and children) with whom I could not empathize, but who I knew were about to suffer terribly. Like I said, that day became purpose-sustaining.
Six years on, I promise you reformers will all ignore the content of this series; because seriously considering it would require them to surrender the advantage of moral certainty and social status. I’ve been trying to engage many of these people as both jerk and nice guy, publicly and privately, for a very long time to get them to try to change approach and maybe surrender advantage. Nothing works, even as my audience and platform grows (not exponentially, but steadily).
Indeed, one of the key writers of Failure Factories unblocked me after part 4 long enough to ask that I correct a misstatement of the precise nature of her post Failure Factories employment (has to do with distinction of fellowship v. think tank), which I promptly did, of course. She then immediately blocked me again. That’s it — nothing else to say about a deep critique of Pulitzer-winning work that has hurt so many lives. Nothing to say about the future.
My animating anger from 2015 doesn’t keep me from recognizing the importance of “moral reformers” to Florida’s and America’s future. We, who don’t have advantage to surrender in the grifter war of public education extermination, cannot afford to prioritize taking pounds of flesh from potential allies who do. But we also can’t afford to be dishonest about their role in getting us here; and we can’t fail to understand that they are not allies right now in any way.
If Arne Duncan and John King and Travis Pillow and the Failure Factories reporters and Robert Pondiscio and Jonathan Chait and all the rest descended upon Florida’s voucher school segregation factory as the atrocity that it is, I would happily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. Or I would happily stay the hell home, whichever they preferred. They are, collectively, far more important than I am.
If they turn on Jeb Crow and the Florida Model, much will follow. Will they? I doubt it; and we have to act on that, too.
Until then, I hope Adam Miller takes my list of recruitable voucher schools — in the knowledge that each child is human-sized anecdote as important as any other. In working with him productively for an hour to solve a real human problem, I saw a glimpse of an education world that does not exist yet. Let’s create it.
Great series Billy. I think that the quote from Nicole Hannah-Jones is a good one. But I think her own writing shows how difficult it is to live up to. In her narrative about choosing a school for her child, her child ends up and what appears to actually be a really good school. here's how she describes it:
"The school’s population was 91 percent black and Latino. Nine of 10 students met federal poverty standards. But what went on inside the school was unlike what goes on in most schools serving the city’s poorest children. This was in large part because of the efforts of a remarkable principal, Roberta Davenport. She grew up in Farragut, and her younger siblings attended P.S. 307. She became principal five decades later in 2003, to a low-performing school. Davenport commuted from Connecticut, but her car was usually the first one in the parking lot each morning, often because she worked so late into the night that, exhausted, she would sleep at a friend’s nearby instead of making the long drive home. Soft of voice but steely in character, she rejected the spare educational orthodoxy often reserved for poor black and brown children that strips away everything that makes school joyous in order to focus solely on improving test scores. These children from the projects learned Mandarin, took violin lessons and played chess. Thanks to her hard work, the school had recently received money from a federal magnet grant, which funded a science, engineering and technology program aimed at drawing middle-class children from outside its attendance zone."
So she does reject the advantage of going to an "elite" school, but she absolutely embraces the advantage of going to a "good" school. I sure find no fault in her for this choice, but it still leaves unresolved what solution is best for people whose zoned schools are absolute misery. This is the problem that the "reform" movement has tackled, badly, but I haven't seen many better ideas that have any public traction. If you made me king of the education system we would end up something radically different that looked a lot more like Finland than America, but in the political reality that we have today, advocating for such a radical reshaping strikes me as tilting at windmills.