The end of woke-washing, pt 1: the "Failure Factories" era dies brutally with the DoE/Jefferson corruption scandal and cover-up
Corcoran/DeSantis are trying to eject from tiny Jefferson and its huge state scandal. Democrats seem desperate to let them. But this is too massive for either. Here's why.
The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald joint Tallahassee bureau has produced another great story about DoE/Jefferson-gate with far-reaching implications. I’ll get to a lot of them at a high level in part 2, tomorrow. But first, I want you to fully consider the elegant hilarity of this passage. Note the parts in bold:
DeSantis’ office, however, said Thursday that it considers the matter closed because the Department of Education’s inspector general office investigated and took action against a bid, unrelated to the one exposed by the Times/Herald.
“The investigation has concluded, and the commissioner and DOE have been fully transparent about the investigation, its findings and the actions taken by the agency,” spokesperson Christina Pushaw said in an email. “Rep. Tant’s letter is a few weeks late.”
The “a” in “a bid” delivers perhaps the drollest effect of an indefinite article to appropriately snark a flack that I have ever encountered as a reader. Ana Ceballos and Lawrence Mower are not only producing heroic reporting; they’re crafting the narrative with clarity and writing it with style. This is great journalism.
And let’s be clear about what Pushaw’s trolling means: the governor’s office, acting on behalf of the state of Florida, is now openly and brazenly covering up the open and brazen public corruption in Department of Education’s “external operator” bid process for Jefferson County public schools.
This isn’t just happening in plain sight; the governor’s troll is snarking about it in writing as part of her official statement. That, alone, is a massive story for anyone not crippled by terminal cynicism. And I am not.
If you’re new to this scandal, the first Mower and Ceballos story summarizes its immediate mechanics best. If you want all the scandal background, read the Orlando Sentinel here. And the Tallahassee Democrat here. And “Florida Politics” here.
And you can read my first stories here.
The governor’s Twitter troll invents a “few week” statute of limitations on investigating public corruption
Let me speak directly to Christina Pushaw for a moment.
Until someone puts Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and K12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva under oath and asks …
What exactly was Richard Corcoran’s role versus Jacob Oliva’s role in negotiating with MGT (the other bid process, the one Pushaw is openly, brazenly covering up for) before the RFQ?
Is it true that Corcoran had total control over who won the bid?
Did Corcoran order Oliva to use MGT as the Jefferson County firm?
Did Corcoran order Oliva to craft the RFQ with the draft MGT agreement?
Did Oliva know that MGT is owned by former legislator Trey Traviesa (Corcoran’s old business partner)?
… your statement is just official government cover-up disguised as OAN Twitter trolling.
If by “fully transparent” you mean Corcoran “oversaw the investigation of the one bid, without being interviewed, while ignoring a second, more systemically corrupt bid process involving his former business partner, whose outcome he controlled,” then sure, Corcoran has been “fully transparent.”
But understand you own that meaning and statement — personally. You made it. You own the fact that you’ve made it the governor of Florida’s position that there is a “few weeks late” statute of limitations on asking about public corruption. And you are an official government employee, paid by the taxpayers, theoretically subject to various legal standards of behavior.
Will Florida’s corrupt government investigate itself? Will this become a narrative-driving scandal?
So will this ridiculous state government investigate its own public corruption seriously? That is the question, isn’t it? I don’t know. I suspect Republican state leadership will just try to brazen it out, as Pushaw signals. They may well succeed. I try never to delude myself about power and morality.
GOP leaders need not worry about an opposition party using DoE/Jefferson for political advantage, which is the conventional way something like this would become dangerous for the ruling party.
The Florida Democratic party is too consumed by the loser’s cyncism of weakness to weaponize a deeply substantive education corruption scandal — that really affects everyone — and would already be all over Fox News if the situation was reversed. Indeed, the GOP has conjured political narrative-driving education scandals out of thin air in the last six months.
By contrast, when offered Richard Corcoran’s head on a substantive, real-world narrative-driving platter, Florida Dems, other than Allison Tant, go ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Gosh, the total cynical corruption of Florida state education system that our opponents own completely today might give us something to organize around and run on. And that would make Republicans sad; so we can’t do it. LOL. Send us money, please.
No, meaningful accountability for DoE/Jefferson-gate will not come from Democratic legislators or any of the three Democratic governor candidates. It will require some institutional investigator with courage; or it will require Ron DeSantis to realize how vulnerable the comprehensive “woke-washed” corruption of Florida’s entire state education system — certainly including vouchers — makes him to Trump chanting “Drain the Swamp” at him in ‘24.
They’re already starting to fight; Trump will need weapons. Feel free to quote me, Trump handlers.
Richard Corcoran’s corrupt, warmed-over educational Jeb-ism, is, by far, DeSantis’ #1 political liability heading into ‘22 and ‘24. Nothing else — except maybe Matt Gaetz if there’s something really bad we don’t yet — comes anywhere close. You can tell this by how eagerly and quietly state government bounced Melissa Ramsey and Andy Tuck and how quickly and meekly they submitted to Jefferson’s school board as soon as all this became public. Will that spur DeSantis to act in his own self-interest? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
In any event, DoE/Jefferson-gate doesn’t begin or end with Richard Corcoran’s grifty conflicts. Frankly, they’re just the second-rate burglars of the truly massive Florida Model scandal this episode reveals.
“Failure Factories” woke-washed vast state-sanctioned brutality against vulnerable communities of all kinds
No, DoE/Jefferson-gate begins in Pinellas County in 2015, with the Tampa Bay Times again — and its famous, Pulitzer-winning “Failure Factories” articles about the struggles of five racially segregated zoned schools.
[You could certainly argue that DoE/Jefferson-gate actually begins in 1998 with Jeb Bush’s election and the introduction of Florida’s fraudulent and immoral school grade system. But there are more direct, explicit lines from “Failure Factories” to DoE/Jefferson.]
I took a deep deep historical dive last year on the malignant impact of how those well-reported and well-intended segregation stories were mislabeled as “Failure Factories.” It was part 4 of my “Jeb Crow” series. That’s the term I use to describe Florida’s state education system.
The “Failure Factories” tagline allowed Richard Corcoran and Jeb’s foundation and Manny Diaz and Ralph Arza and all the people who brought you DoE/Jefferson-gate to decimate education resources for children like those in Jefferson County all across the state. It happened here in Polk County in the school my own son attended — and in the schools I oversaw as an elected School Board member. As I wrote in the “Failure Factories” piece:
Changing one word would have changed the entire recent history of education and the state of Florida — and to great extent the entire country.
It’s the most consequential single word choice error I have ever seen in journalism of any kind.
It wasn’t just — or even primarily — enabled by Republicans. The most important moment in the aftermath of “Failure Factories” came in December 2015 when Barack Obama’s top education officials — Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his henchman, John King, came to Pinellas County to grandstand in woke language.
Standing in Campbell Park Elementary, Duncan said: "What has happened to too many kids, for too long, is unacceptable. It's heartbreaking. Part of me wants to cry. Part of me gets very, very angry."
See the article here. You’ll notice that the Times reporter has to paraphrase any Duncan or King reference to “segregation” or “integration.” Note the reporter’s use of the word “linked,” while neither word is put directly in either mouth of power. “Race” and “most poorly served” are though.
Duncan linked the failing elementary schools to the Pinellas School Board's decision eight years ago to abandon integration, saying that bad decisions and broken promises had a devastating effect. He said that it wasn't a coincidence that "those who are most poorly served were black children who happened to be poor.”
"You can't have this conversation and not talk about race," he said.
The School Board's decision was the focus of a Tampa Bay Times investigation, "Failure Factories," which detailed how the district neglected five resegregated schools until they became some of the worst in Florida. The series also showed how violence had spiked in the schools — Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose — and how experienced teachers had fled as the classes before them became less and less diverse.
“Linked” is doing massive massive work in this passage to connect two unconnected concepts:
Weaponizing “race” to destroy public school capacity in the supposed name of equity.
Wrestling in good faith with racial “segregation” in schools and communities that lack capital.
Jeb Crow and the Jeb Crow wing of the Democratic Party — is and was about the first thing — not the second thing.
If you were a parent, child, or teacher in a traditional zoned school serving lower income communities and kids anywhere in Florida, “Failure Factories” made it open government season on you.
You almost certainly experienced the pain of “Failure Factories” and the brutal test-based punishments and corruption and VAM-based teacher disruption, likely without understanding how or why it was happening.
“Failure Factories” unleashed unprecedented, merciless state-sanctioned exploitation of communities of color — and all other communities — in the name of helping them. Jefferson is the purest example of this woke-washed viciousness. And it’s not at all surprising — hell, it’s probably inevitable — that this “experiment” ended with the most petty and cynical grifter-on-grifter action imaginable, executed and covered up by “leaders” in Florida’s tax-funded, GOP-run, dying state Department of Education.
Corcoran, Diaz, and Somerset, etc. dunked Arne Duncan’s ally-oop right on Jefferson County’s head — and everybody else’s
Look at how the DoE-grifter crew ran with “Failure Factories”/Duncan’s woke washing.
Notice the role of "segregation” in the Jefferson County issues, noted in Jessica Bakeman’s truly outstanding “Chartered” analysis of the Jefferson situation from a few years ago.
And check out this quote, also from Bakeman’s stories. It’s from Cory Oliver, the principal hired by Somerset Charter to run the Jefferson schools. It’s full of the same moral urgency Arne Duncan and Richard Corcoran bleated on and on about.
"Everybody's watching," Oliver said. "I mean, everybody tells me, everybody’s watching.
"Is it a big deal if this school is successful? Absolutely. It affects charter schools all across the state of Florida, and I'm aware of that," he said. "This school being the first takeover of a public school district, … it makes sense to me why people would want to see if this — and I've heard it called an ‘experiment’ — if this experiment works.
"And it has to," he said. "I mean, regardless of public, charter, or any of that — it has to work. Because it has to be about our kids here. This is their future.
"What happens to these kids if I fail?"
The DoE/Jefferson corruption scandal only exists because of the Somerset Charter moral cowardice scandal
I don’t doubt that Cory Oliver felt that moral urgency.
Unlike literally anybody else I’ve cited in this story — myself included — Cory Oliver put himself personally on the line, on the ground in Jefferson County. That always earns respect from me.
And I don’t think it’s fair — or good policy — to conclude that he “failed.” Or even that Somerset “failed,” although acting as an employment agency for Ralph Arza’s extended family probably didn’t help. This personalization of education “failure” is crippling vocabulary that is destroying the American capacity to provide education services and resources. I’ll talk more about at a later time.
But Somerset had twice the money the elected school officials of Jefferson ever had to run their schools. And they’re still going out as a “D” on the fraudulent state grade scale.
So I have no problem observing and naming the abject cowardice of Somerset — and its parent company Academica — in abandoning the kids and community of Jefferson County, without even giving a reason. That’s why you have the Jefferson “external operator” corruption inside DoE — because the moral cowardice scandal of Republican state government’s charter contractor left a giant grifter void.
And I will heartily laugh at the moral urgency of Arne Duncan and John King and, also, the “Failure Factories” reporters — who did nothing, tried nothing, said nothing to at least slow the exploitation of their Pulitzer-winning work.
You think any of these woke-washing folks will ever acknowledge the moral violence against a vital public good they woke-washed? You think corporate “reformer” Arne Duncan will ever come to Jefferson County and point his finger at Manny Diaz and Somerset. Think you’ll ever get this from anyone in the Obama-Jeb reform world — left, center, or right?
"What has happened to too many kids, for too long, is unacceptable. It's heartbreaking. Part of me wants to cry. Part of me gets very, very angry."
Lol. Hell no.
DoE/Jefferson will affect the fabric of life in every Florida community
I’ll wrap this up by noting we do not yet know the full consequences of what’s happened and is happening in Jefferson and DOE. They are unpredictable; and I will not predict them.
But this scandal has already unleashed multiple far-reaching dynamics. Part 2 of this will be shorter — and essentially a list of these crucial dynamics and their implications as I see them.
“Failure Factories” drove vast matrices of individual human experiences across the state public education system, everywhere.
I expect the Jefferson scandal, the end of “Failure Factories” era, will have equally far-reaching consequences, for better and worse.