In these times, trolls pushing extremist views underscore the need for critical thought

crying statue of libertyThis is a season of extreme gaslighting where everyone from politicians to internet trolls are tripping over themselves to use psychological means to manipulate us into questioning our own sanity.

This week a person posted an article for general consumption on the Tampa Bay Times Gradebook facebook page entitled, Fix Education by Radical Decentralization by the Tenth Amendment Center. It came with a comment that read: “Interesting read. I would like to hear (I should say, read) your educated opinion on this. Cheers.” and was posted by someone with almost zero content on their FaceBook page. In other words, the poster was very likely a paid-to-post troll. Although the post generated 78 comments and 15 shares it had only 4 likes.  Gratefully, Florida’s smart public education advocates gave a solid push back.

Turns out that The Tenth Amendment Center and it’s founder, Michael Boldin is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist anti-government group. Read their conclusion:

Michael Boldin is the founder and executive director of the Tenth Amendment Center (TAC), an organization that favors “nullification” of federal laws it considers unconstitutional. Founded in 2007, the TAC is based on an expansive reading of the Tenth Amendment, which says that those “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Boldin describes the TAC, which offers model bills and resolutions on its website, as “a non-partisan think tank that supports the principles of strictly limited constitutional government.” Boldin evidently runs the organization from his home, which also houses Webstores, LLC, where he is listed as manager.

As a practical matter, however, the TAC is on the political far right, opposing a whole array of federal laws and regulations. It has gained wide support among hard-line libertarians and neo-Confederates who are still angry at the powers the federal government accumulated after the Civil War that allowed it, among other things, to act against segregation, discrimination and other social ills. (In the 1950s, several states tried unsuccessfully to resist desegregation by nullifying federal laws. The courts have consistently rejected nullification as unconstitutional.) The group’s site, in another indication of its politics, rails against centrist Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a “dedicated Socialist.”

For a time, Boldin crisscrossed the country, taking the TAC’s nullification message to supporters known as “Tenthers.” Its “Nullify Now!” conferences were held between 2010 and 2013 in cities including Austin, Texas, Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla., and Manchester, N.H.

These conferences were often headlined by prominent figures in the anti-government “Patriot” movement, which years grew dramatically after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. The Austin gathering, for instance, featured Art Thompson of the John Birch Society, which once argued that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a communist agent, and Stewart Rhodes, head of the conspiracy-minded Oath Keepers, a group that encourages police officers and soldiers to disobey “unconstitutional” orders. Kevin Gutzman, a professor of history at Western Connecticut State University and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, also spoke.

Turns out that the Tenth Amendment Center and other efforts like it are nothing new. As Rachel Tabachnick writes in Nullification, Neo-Confederates and the Revenge of the old Right:

“Advocates base their argument for nullification and its ideological twin, secession, on the “compact theory,” which holds that the U.S. government was formed by a compact among sovereign states that have the right to nullify federal laws—or leave the union.3 Their work has the potential to provoke the most dramatic showdown over states’ rights since President John F. Kennedy federalized Alabama’s National Guard in response to Gov. George Wallace’s refusal to desegregate the University of Alabama.”

Extremism often appears innocuous at the start. Kudos to the readers and public education advocates who pushed back against the content of this post. Never underestimate the importance of questioning what we read and being self-aware about the extreme value of thinking critically.

 

Parent-empowerment voucher could irreparably harm public schools |

CRYING EYE ETCHINGThe new “parent empowerment” voucher, passed during Florida’s 2019 legislative session, is a calculated gateway to universal vouchers which are often linked by reformers to the end of brick and mortar public education as we know it. The victory laps being taken by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, House and Senate leadership and former Gov. Jeb Bush ring hollow when you consider that we are in our 21st year of GOP dominance. Where’s the “victory” when despite enormous public outcry, there is zero possibility of a different policy outcome?

Predictably, op-eds have cropped up across the state featuring Bush assuring everyone that, “public schools will not be harmed by private school tuition vouchers,” and Senate Education Chair Manny Diaz proclaiming in the Sentinel that the “new voucher is good for students and the state” (May 7). While public schools stand to lose funding and bear the responsibility of bringing returning voucher students back on track academically, it’s the children using this newest “choice” voucher to attend unregulated schools who run the greatest risk.

 

The very use of the word “choice” conjures up a different meaning for everyone. When a parent chooses to give up their child’s right to a free and appropriate public education, take a voucher and attend a private religious school there are consequences. Private schools reserve the right to discriminate against any child for any reason, they are not required to accept any student, parents are responsible for the tuition gap, teachers may have little more than an high school diploma, curriculum is not subject to state review and can be loaded with alternative, even radical content, there are no required anti-bullying programs, safety protocols, facility standards or transportation. When there is a dispute, often the solution is to leave the school.

 

The way Florida sells “choice” relies heavily on gaslighting its citizens. We’re talking two decades of psychological manipulation to get both politicians and the public to doubt the credibility of teachers, the value of public schools, the importance of respecting the separation of church and state, even their own childhood school memories. To complete the picture, add the pain and suffering of starvation funding, high-stakes testing, arming teachers and a hostile spate of accountability measures imposed solely on public schools by the state. For perspective, there are nearly three million students in Florida public schools and just over 100,000 voucher recipients in private schools that cost the state a billion dollars every year.

The Parent Empowerment voucher is like the program shut down by the Florida Supreme Court in the 2006 Bush v Holmes decision. Instead of using diverted corporate tax revenue, this new voucher drains funds from the same property tax dollars that comprise the primary funding source for Florida’s public-school districts. It features an eligibility escalator which eventually includes families of four making $100,000 per year resulting in an enormous middle-class entitlement. When these vouchers, valued at approximately $7,200, are redeemed at private, mostly religious schools, it’s understood that parents are responsible for the balance, which could be upwards of $18,000 per year. It’s easy to see how the low-income students that politicians purport to serve could be squeezed out of this “choice.”

 

Both Bush and Diaz cite glowing, largely unproven notions that vouchers have “improved the outcomes of disadvantaged students, they’ve also improved the performance of all public schools.” How exactly do vouchers improve the performance of public schools? Is it by removing academic low-performers from the A+ Accountability data? Diaz cites an Urban Institute study, which was funded by the Walton family and Bush’s own Foundation for Excellence in Education, saying that voucher students are “43% more likely to enroll in 4-year colleges and 20% more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees.” But Diaz fails to add the line from the study that says, “the effects on enrollment, however, were largely at the community college level, and the effects on degree attainment were slight, with no effect at the bachelor’s degree level.” The spin just never stops.

 

The bottom line is that the state is absolutely obsessed with imposing strict accountability standards on its public schools. Yet Bush, Diaz, Corcoran, House and Senate leadership feel no such compunction to make sure voucher students are receiving the same quality from private religious schools. In fact, there is zero interest from the state as to the type of education voucher parents are choosing for their children, what they are learning or whether they are staying on grade level. If that doesn’t raise a billion red flags, it’s hard to imagine what will.

 

The author is the founder of FundEducationNow.org, a non-partisan group focused on Florida education policy. First published in the Orlando Sentinel. 

Smoking gun: FL can’t insure armed teachers from liability

SAD EMOJIWith SB 7030/Arming Teachers passing in the Florida Senate as was predicted, the question raised by this blog about whether or not this is insurable remains.

Did knowledgeable political insiders deliberately plunge an entire state into a horrific Sophie’s Choice debate over forcing public school classroom teachers to live every day knowing that they or their colleagues must pivot from teaching the students they love to possibly shooting one of them?

Was this just a cruel distraction to allow the greatest threat to Florida Public Education, universal vouchers/Education Savings Accounts and a slew of other deeply hostile bills to pass into law with considerably less opposition from exhausted public education advocates?

Not to put to fine a point on it, but here’s the smoking gun as to whether arming classroom teachers can be insured. Fellow blogger Mercedes Schneider addresses the question and points out that:

The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) uses AIX Specialty Insurance Company to provide its educators professional liability policy. According to that policy, armed teachers would not be covered if they make an error when using that gun. From the policy:

EXCLUSIONS

This policy does not apply to any claim: …

26. Alleging or arising out of:

a. any actual or alleged breach of duty, negligent act, error, omission, misstatement, or misleading statement committed by an INSURED while acting within the scope of their law enforcement activities for the educational institution; and

b. Any allegations of negligence or wrongdoing in the supervision, hiring, employment, training, or monitoring of a person whose conduct is included in Paragraph a. above.

For the purposes of this exclusion, “law enforcement activities” means activities, services, advice or instruction that is within the scope of the authorized duties of the educational institution’s law enforcement and security guard personnel. This exclusion shall also apply to any armed FULL-TIME INSTRUCTIONAL PERSONNEL.

So, armed Florida teachers, know that as of this writing, any negligent act associated with that gun is not covered by FDOE liability insurance. Supervisors connected to negligence of armed teachers are also excluded from the liability policy.

Understand this, public education advocates, voters, teachers, parents, students, critical thinkers: At best, arming teachers with a one-time $500 bonus and three weeks of training when a full time sworn school resource officer costs $100,000 per year is a preposterous level of cheap.

At worst, is the looming reality that this chaos over arming teachers was a deliberate plan to provide cover while lawmakers passed a radical political agenda knowing the idea was doomed from the start. This is 100% unacceptable.

Politicians are supposed to work for us. We all know what happens to employees who lie, scheme, enrich themselves and others and plot to destroy the company. They get fired.

Join the fight to save our public schools and transform them into what’s best for Florida’s children and their teachers.

If “arming teachers” can’t be insured, is the debate just a cruel charade?

PINNOCCHIO DONT LIEWake up Florida. We are being gamed again. There’s a good chance that the whole uproar over arming teachers is just an orchestrated distraction.

Zero evidence suggests that arming classroom teachers as described in SB 7030/HB 7093 is insurable. Right now, SB 7030/Arming Teachers is on its way to a full senate floor vote.  No one is stepping up to underwrite the enormous liability of putting guns into the hands of classroom teachers with scant training. Out of approximately three weeks of training, only 8 hours are devoted to learning to shoot. Where are the insurance companies for districts, unions or sheriff’s offices on this?

Following last year’s passage of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Safety Act, Stephanie Luke, Chair of the Lake County school board in Florida had this to say about insurance, “It’s a discussion we’re having with our lawyer and our insurance company,” Luke said, emphasizing that those talks are only at the early stages, as the board does not want to appear that it has come to any conclusions on a new policy. “But it (arming district staff) would be more liability,” she conceded.

It’s disturbing to think that the 2019 Florida Legislature, filled with impassioned debate and often deeply personal public outcry over the obvious insanity of arming a teacher, is a cruel political calculation providing cover for:

  • the radical transformation of private religious school vouchers into a middle-class entitlement paid for by public school dollars
  • the transference of public-school referendum money into the hands of charter profiteers,
  • ripping charter authorizing authority from school boards and granting it to the state,
  • expanding the oversight powers of the appointed Commissioner of Education has over district superintendents and boards
  • school board term limits

Immediately following Senate Appropriations passage of SB 7030, articles appeared revealing quotes from Democrat Sen. Perry Thurston, a committee member:

“The chances are “60-40,” Thurston said, with the higher percentage going toward the idea that arming teachers would be removed from the bill. The Democrats withdrew several amendments related to the teacher portion of the bill during Thursday’s vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee, citing their agreement.

“If they take that out, there are quite a few [Democrats] who would be willing to vote for it,” added Thurston, a Democrat from Lauderhill.”

The dominant Senate GOP does not need a single vote from the Democrats to pass SB 7030 as is. If the Senate strips language arming teachers from SB 7030, two things happen: Democrats and advocates are granted an improbable victory and legislators get rid of the certain embarrassment that will arise when “armed teachers” cannot be insured.

Last year during the debate over the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act, politicians suggested that deaths, injuries and mishaps caused by school staff armed with guns would be covered by Stand Your Ground. This year House Education Committee chair Jennifer Sullivan implied that it was “the entities responsibility” when asked about insurance. Very little of the money budgeted  in 2018 for the Aaron Feis Guardian Program that armed school personnel other than full time classroom teachers has been spent.  Many districts across the state, including Orange County Public Schools ,have approved resolutions not to arm teachers.

The News Service of Florida reports: “From the 25 counties that have decided to arm school personnel, all but one have requested funding from the state —- a total of $9.3 million out of the $67 million that lawmakers set aside for the program this year. Polk County has requested $1.5 million to implement the program, the most of any county. The county’s sheriff, Grady Judd, was a key player in helping shape the statewide program. The rest of the state’s 42 counties have opted out of the program and are not able to tap into the unspent $57 million for other security measures.”

Further, arming teachers has been met with push-back from insurers across the nation.

Kansas passed a law in 2013 that allowed members of school staff to be armed after the Sandy Hook massacre claimed the lives of 20 elementary school children. But five years later, no Kansas school employee has legally brought a gun onto a public K-12 campus.

EMC, which covers most Kansas school districts, immediately sent a letter to its agents in response to the prospect that districts could legally allow teachers to be armed on their campuses. “EMC has concluded that concealed handguns on school premises pose a heightened liability risk,” the letter read. “Because of this increased risk, we have chosen not to insure schools that allow employees to carry concealed handguns. We are making this underwriting decision simply to protect the financial security of our company,” it concluded.

And Colorado was even more direct about the fallacy of arming low-trained staff, “More guns make insurers nervous in other situations, too, said Scott Kennedy, president of CCIG, an insurance company in Colorado. He pointed to the common preference among insurers that nightclub bouncers remain unarmed, while off-duty police officers working security are usually allowed to carry firearms.”

If arming classroom teachers turns out to be a wag the dog scenario that insiders always knew was uninsurable and therefore doomed, advocates and voters should feel betrayed by their so-called public servants. The sheer cruelty of plunging an entire state into a Sophie’s Choice debate over forcing public school classroom teachers to live every day knowing that they or their colleagues must pivot from teaching the students they love to possibly shooting one of them is too much to bear.

 

 

Ron DeSantis Has ‘Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals’ for Florida Education and That’s Bad

Family Empowerment voucher paves the way: Choice 2.0 Education Savings Accounts

DECEPTION

Choice 2.0,  Education Savings Accounts (ESA) are the “reform” endgame and they won’t live up to Florida’s “choice” lore.  With the Family Empowerment Voucher, former Governor Jeb Bush, the Milton Friedman Foundation/Ed Choice, voucher and charter proponents and of course vendors are teetering on the edge of their most ideological, profit-driven dreams. Corporate charter operators are dreaming about converting to private schools as soon as ESAs become a reality. All at the expense of the three million students who attend Florida public schools.

The Family Empowerment Voucher is different because it will be funded through the Florida Education Finance Program, with the money specified for public schools. This money is paid to private/religious schools who are free to discriminate, avoid standards/regulation, charge more than the voucher for tuition. teach extreme curriculum, hire “teachers” with less than a high-school diploma, provide minimal safety and make no guarantees as to excellence or student success.

Florida politicians are determined to use billions in public school dollars to fund this latest radical voucher/private religious school entitlement for the middle class. The Family Empowerment voucher escalates in value to families of four who earn $100,000 per year. It is the last step toward the implementation of Education Savings Accounts.

Florida’s Corporate Tax Credit voucher allows corporations to divert their taxes to Step Up for Students, the state’s largest designated Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO). The resulting vouchers are then used primarily for private religious schools that do not have to meet any of the standards imposed by the state on public schools. Since its inception in 2001, lawmakers have expanded Florida’s voucher program so that $1 billion dollars annually, once destined for state general revenue that should have funded a wide range of needs has been diverted to private schools. Keep in mind that Step Up for Students has been paid at least 3% of the gross or $81 million dollars over the years as a “fee.”

Education “reform” is all about chaos and disruption. Because it’s hard to tear down a cornerstone asset like public education, reformers rely on issuing a series of unfounded “studies” in the hopes that the press and politicians will quote their theoretical “findings” as fact. That strategy, called “moving the Overton window,” manipulates public perception with the goal of normalizing radical policy ideas like annually transferring $800 billion public tax dollars spent by states every year into privatizing public schools.

One such study by Matthew Ladner, is entitled The Way of the Future: Education Savings Accounts for Every American Family. Ladner works for Jeb’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, writes the K-12 Education Report Card for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and is a fellow at the Friedman Foundation for School Choice/Ed Choice and the Goldwater Institute. He is also the current executive editor of ReDefineED, the “Choice” propaganda blog funded by Step Up For Students and John Kirtley. Don’t dismiss this study because it was written in 2012. Its contents are a road map that should not be ignored. Of course, ALEC conveniently provides legislators with an off-the-shelf model bill called the Education Savings Account Act.

Ladner writes that, “Education Savings Accounts bring Milton Friedman’s original school voucher idea into the 21st century.” He lays out all the usual reasons for why, in his opinion, public schools are failing. He claims that public education is a 20th century “factory” model. In reality, what could be more factory-like than “reform” standards such as high stakes testing, teaching to the test,virtual learning and student data obsession?

Of course, Ladner blames teachers unions and school boards while ignoring the trauma of poverty and hostile legislation. On one hand he extols parental “choice,” on the other hand he decries the locally elected voice of school boards as “monopolies.”

Camel’s nose under the tent

Florida already has several forms of vouchers. There’s the aforementioned Corporate Tax Credit Voucher, Voluntary Pre-K, McKay Scholarship for Exceptional Education Students (ESE) students, the Hope voucher for bullied students that allows them to leave their public schools without proving an incident occured and a targeted ESA program called the Gardiner Personal Learning Account that expanded the pool of eligible ESE students to include 504 classifications and requires recipients to relinquish their right to public education.

School reformers have been busy. Since 2014, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee have adopted ESA programs.  The easiest first step is to write legislation that covers ESE students. That’s the so-called “nose under the tent.”  Once that happens the door is open for states to pursue Education Savings Accounts for every child while launching a wholesale conversion of existing voucher programs.

Zero proof exists that ESAs are better than public schools

There is an assumption that handing tax funded Education Savings Accounts over to parents will transform them into discerning consumers and thereby “providers will have powerful incentives to compete on the basis of both quality and cost.” That’s the thinking that destroyed thousands of healthy mom and pop businesses across the nation and left us with Walmart. Put another way, should we allow our children to be used as guinea pigs to prove whether consumers control the market or the market controls consumers?

One thing is clear, voters, teachers, parents and children have been gamed by high stakes test and punish reforms. The past 20 years of notions such as “failure factories,” “ineffective teachers,” “status quo,” “merit pay,” “Common Core,” “mandatory third grade retention” and “choice” are the semantics of a scheme. All the high stakes discomfort, micromanagement, cruelty and humiliation vectored toward teachers and children were never about improving or investing in public education. If it were, why would Matthew Ladner write this?

“The job of a private school, private tutor, or community college accepting funds from an ESA is decidedly not to teach the state K-12 academic standards. Rather, people should understand ESAs as an opt-out of the public school system, not as an extension of it into other delivery methods. The hope of an ESA system would be to allow a broad diversity of approaches. We should view dictating a single set of curriculum as a self-defeating anathema to such a project.

The public does have an interest in the academic progress of students in such a system nonetheless. Requiring students to take a national normed exam would serve the needs of transparency in a fashion that does not dictate curriculum to providers or students.” The Way of the Future: Education Savings Accounts for Every American Family

Where’s the truth? In Florida and other “reform” states, Jeb Bush, legislators, lobbyists, education commissioners have all supported state tests, vehemently rejecting any substitution or use of a nationally norm-referenced test, citing the incongruity with state standards. What about Pearson, AIR and all those vendors with their expensive data-manipulated criterion referenced tests, prep and remediation that cost taxpayers billions?

Public Tax Dollars + For-profit Corporations = Privatized Education

School reformers dislike the fact that the U.S. Constitution is clear about the separation of church and state and that most states have a “no-aid’ or Blaine amendment prohibiting states from using tax dollars to fund religious schools.  An analysis by the National Education Policy Center of Ladner’s “Way of the Future” points out that:

A lengthy discussion that follows of so-called Blaine amendments (the generic term for measures enacted in various state constitutions forbidding direct government aid to educational institutions with any religious affiliations) contends that since the ESA money goes to parents, state constitutional prohibitions against funding religious institutions are avoided.

This is the same type of work-around Florida uses to divert dollars to Step Up for Students Corporate Tax Credit vouchers.

Ladner himself writes, “Relative to a voucher program, a system of parent-managed accounts may have constitutional advantages over school vouchers. The broader possible use of funds may help to immunize choice programs from court challenges under “Blaine Amendments” in some state constitutions.”

Privatizing public education is corporate welfare on steroids. These “reformers” don’t really care about kids, quality or accountability. They believe the $800 billion dollars states spend annually on public schools is their “entitlement.”

 Education Savings Accounts buy more than education

 ESAs require a shift to private schools and a rejection of public education. Here’s what they do:

  • Parents must withdraw/”opt out” from traditional public school
  • Deposits 90% of district per student funding in ESA account (ex: in Nevada that’s $5,100)
  • Districts lose these funding dollars
  • Acceptance to private schools, which are free to discriminate, is not guaranteed
  • Parents determine if teaching certificates, curricula, standards or accreditation is necessary
  • 3% of all ESA funds are paid to private Scholarship Funding Organization for management “fees”
  • Allows private schools to charge more than the ESA for tuition and other services
  • Allows parents to use ESA money and their own wealth fund expensive private school tuition
  • Allows private oversight firms to apply penalties/seek criminal charges against parents/vendors
  • Allows private schools to expel students at any time for any reason
  • Can pay for textbooks required by private school
  • Can pay for tutoring or other services
  • Can pay for on-line virtual K-12 schooling
  • Can pay for national norm-referenced test fees
  • Can pay for special ESE instruction and/or services
  • Can pay for college or university tuition if student is dual enrolled
  • Can pay for textbooks for a state college or university
  • Can pay for transportation to school
  • Can pay for purchase of curriculum or any supplemental materials
  • Leftover funds can be applied to a 529 college tuition program

Perhaps the most striking problem on the list above is the amazing opportunity ESAs have for inequity. Obviously private schools reserve the right to raise their tuition, discriminate and teach whatever they want as long as consumers buy. Reformer’s can’t have it both ways. They can’t claim to be concerned about zip codes keeping  poor students “stuck” in schools while pushing publicly funded ESAs designed to allow Johnny’s parents to pay an extra $20,000 per year for an exclusive prep school when Ricky’s parents cannot.

As an analysis by the National Education Policy Center of Ladner’s “Way of the Future” points out:

”Research evidence from the United States and abroad suggests that parental choice policies, such as ESAs, result in increased social, economic, and racial stratification. This poses a fundamental equity issue for the provision of universal education in a democratic society.”

ESAs – national strategy

Predictably, ESAs were front and center at Jeb’s recent Foundation for Excellence in Education National Summit where there was talk of schooling in a “post facility” world and “education savings accounts (ESAs), voucher-like subsidies that can fund not just private school tuition, but also things like tutoring and home schooling.”

Writer Rachel Cohen, who attended the summit observed: “In theory, additional money to pay for educational expenses sounds like a great way to level the playing field between well-off and low-income students. Children from wealthy families take advantage of all sorts of costly educational opportunities outside of school, such as summer enrichment programs, sports teams, and private tutoring. But at least as they’re currently conceived, education savings accounts are more about redirecting existing per-pupil funds away from public schools, not so much about supplementing public school students with additional money.” 

Years of legislators passing “reforms” that hurt children and harm their teachers speaks volumes. Without the ability to divert funds, it will be very hard to enact Milton Friedman’s sixty-year-old free-market voucher/ESA vision that devotees like U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Jeb’s Foundations and the James Madison Institute want so badly.

Of course DeVos, an ardent voucher/ESA fan, has invested heavily in her effort to undermine public schools. The Washington Post reports, And in 2000, the DeVos extended family spent $5.6 million on an unsuccessful campaign to amend Michigan’s constitution to allow school vouchers — the only choice tool not currently in play in Michigan.”

Make no mistake, the political school “reform” agenda intends to destroy public schools. They’ve talked about it, they’ve written about it, they’re passing a suite of laws to do it.

Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

Now would be the worst possible time for public education advocates to back down from this fight. These are our children and they desperately need us to be their voice. If we fail to reverse course in 2020, that’s on us.

Marianna Mom Ali Wiggins: Speaks about Hurricane Michael, isolation & recovery

For many survivors of Hurricane Michael Facebook is the only place to reach out in hopes of being heard. It was Ali Wiggins post about life after Michael that really resonated with me.

Many affected counties like Jackson and Calhoun are difficult to reach rural, farming communities.  Children from at least eight counties — Washington, Liberty, Jackson, Gulf, Gadsden, Franklin, Calhoun and Bay aren’t returning to school any time soon. In a direct message, Ali said to me, “We all feel isolated here. And we all know help is coming, but we never knew how long it would take. We never knew what our “help” would have to go through just to get to us. Heartbreaking.”

Ali’s voice and words are powerful, please read:

Ali Wiggins, October 25, 2018, Hurricane Michael survivor, Marianna, Florida. Printed with author’s permission.

MARIANNA DOWNED TREES

If you are tired of seeing Hurricane Michael posts, maybe you should unfollow me. And this post will be longer than most so move along if you need to. This is pretty much the only sure fire way we can communicate with folks.

If you think a little rain and some wind rolled through here, you’re wrong. If you think since folks are getting their power turned back on everything’s fine now, you’re wrong. If you’ve seen some pictures and think you know what it feels like to live it cause you’ve seen a hurricane before, you’re wrong. 45 minutes either east or west of us is probably close to being normal again.

If I hear one more person say, “Yea, I’ve seen a few hurricanes. “So and so” hurricane was bad.” Well this wasn’t just a hurricane. It was the third strongest hurricane to hit the US in modern history. And I don’t care what hurricane you’ve seen, you ain’t seen bad! If you were alive in 1935 and saw the “Labor Day” hurricane hit the FL Keys, or in Mississippi in 1969 to see Camille, then we’ll talk. If not, you have no clue.

If you are seeing the news about Panama City and Mexico Beach, we are close to the same. The storm never really slowed down much or weakened when it left them. It hit us full force and we are 60 or so miles inland. Jackson and Calhoun counties were hit just as hard. Folks are living with generators, ridiculously made slow-pour BS gas cans, sometimes rationed gasoline if you can find a place that sells it. Curfews. Only two times of day: daylight and dark. Living in tents, their cars, friends houses, hotels.

You don’t go to the store, you get in line at the PODs. We have long lines for water, MREs, tarps, bugspray, and baby diapers. You could be the wealthiest guy around and it wouldn’t matter. There are very few places to spend it. It’s cash only purchases, no fast food, no ATMs. The stores that are open are only open from sun up to sun down. So you can forget picking up a gallon of milk on your way home. Winn Dixie closes at 5 now. And Walmart probably not long after that.

We have no idea what’s going on outside of this bubble because we have no internet, no phones, no cell service, no tv. We live with our windows wide open and no air conditioning. We have looters and scammers. We have people from all over the nation here, most of them to help us. But how do you know for sure? Some just walk up behind you in your own yard while you’re hanging your laundry on the clothesline and scare the crap out of you just asking if you need help with a downed tree.

Fella snuck right up behind me. He should’ve hollered from his truck. NOT COOL! You can’t tell who belongs in your neighborhood or not. You carry a pistol with you at all times just in case you guessed wrong on whether they are a good guy or a bad guy. Now it’s time for bed, the whole family piles up in one room with air mattresses, fans, open windows and our firearms in case someone decides they need your generator or gas cans or food more than you do.

You can’t sleep because you hear every single noise outside. You hear every siren and you cringe with each one. Flashlights in the dark? It could be a lineman or a boogie man, you don’t know! You go a week and then realize you haven’t seen nor heard one bird because there are no trees left. All the trees are on the ground, and I mean ALL of them, and all the creatures that lived in them are now everywhere. Yellow jackets and mosquitoes that look like they’re from Jurassic Park. The sounds of chainsaws, diesel trucks, helicopters, sirens, and generators constantly.

The death toll continues to rise. Houses are burning down as some folks get power and all the history that they’ve held are now gone with them. Debris piles are taller than the homes they sit in front of. One lane roads and downed power lines everywhere. AND THIS IS DAY 15!!

The depression this brings is real. No one here is dreaming this up. You couldn’t even if you tried! And if you think you could handle all this and go right on like nothing happened, you are welcome to set up camp here in Jackson County, Florida. I’ll give you my spot. I would love to see how you fair. Every where else in the world seems to be business as usual. Not here!

We are all now using the phrase, “new normal”. I hate it! I liked my old normal (as crazy as it was) just fine!!! I’ve cried. I’ve thrown shit. I’ve screamed. And I’ve cried some more. My heart hurts for so many people right now. And I am no where near what some people have experienced. They’ve lost it all. We still have our family and our home. A little damaged but still intact. So many don’t.

This wasn’t just a hurricane. This destroyed the lives of thousands of people. We post a dozen or more things a day to help folks find what they are looking for, whether it be a place to wash clothes, a hot meal to fill their bellies, or 5T clothes for their little boy or girl.

We post what we are living. This is all we can think about. This last 15 days have been awful. And if you can pick right up and get back to it already, then good for you. I’m having a little trouble with that right now. It still looks like a war zone here. Things won’t ever be the same again. I’ve tried so hard to be positive for the last two weeks. Now on day 15, I’m tired. My muscles ache from cutting trees and hauling fence. I wasn’t cut out for this. I’ve got poison ivy and ant bites. I’m pissed and I wish this was all just a bad dream. And I really, really miss Netflix.

Whew! Glad I got that out. I feel better now. Goodnight from JACO. Now y’all can go on about ya business.

How to help Florida Panhandle victims.

How to help Florida Panhandle victims.

Student data mining: Parents deserve right to refuse

WARNING EX POINT CIRCLEUnfortunately, states and school districts are embracing student digital badges, programs like i-Ready, adaptive computer-based education and other Ed-Tech products in exchange for money and/or one-on-one devices. The growing focus on data mining our children’s personal information, sentiments, social/emotional information, even  creating “predictive” profiles,  is something parents deserve the right to refuse for their student.

In Consider Yourself Warned, Deb Herbage explores K-12 data mining and the grave threat it poses to student privacy. Re-blogged with permission:

If you were walking down the street and a stranger stopped you and asked you to hand over your driver’s license and social security card….would you?  Of course, you wouldn’t!  Those two items contain extremely personal information – YOUR personal information.  Your driver’s license has your full name, your picture, your birth date, a unique number (in some state’s it could be your social security number), your address, your height and weight, any restrictions for driving a vehicle and even your eye color.  How about if you put your wallet down for a few seconds and a stranger snatched it, essentially stealing your information.  Wouldn’t that make you feel violated?  You would have to start the whole process of canceling your credit cards, getting a new driver’s license and possibly putting a hold on your credit.  How about if that same stranger who asked you to hand over your driver’s license and social security card in the street told you they wanted your information so they could sell it to the highest bidder.  Wouldn’t you be outraged?  Then WHY are you allowing it to happen to your child(ren)?

Schools across the country have been and continue to set up accounts for our children with a multitude of Edtech vendors.  Schools are allowed to do this under COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act – set up in 1998), however, they are not informing parents and they are not seeking parental permission to do so – especially for minor children under the age of 13.  Parents are completely unaware this is happening.  In most cases, schools are instructing kids to click “I Agree” when they set these accounts up, bypassing parental permission and essentially allowing these Edtech companies to collect and mine massive amounts of data from our kids.  Data they do not have permission to take from parents but do from schools.   Please know, this data is not restricted to when your child is using the application/software/program at school……when kids come home from school and log in to complete homework assignments or study…..the data is flowing from your home computer/iPad/device to the Edtech company.  Your IP address is considered personal information because it is specific to you – that is just one of the over 50,000 data points being collected by the Edtech companies.  Under the new GDPR – that would be a fineable offense.  The data being collected is not being protected.  Here is an article from 2012 detailing the worst offenders of privacy violations – Privacy Hall of Shame – Microsoft, Google, and Facebook – who all own Edtech companies and push for data collection:  https://www.networkworld.com/article/2185187/security/15-worst-internet-privacy-scandals-of-all-time.html

I looked into just one of the Edtech companies my daughter’s school chose to use and set up accounts with on her behalf, without my permission or even acknowledgment, and I was horrified at what I read.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH).  There are many more she is being forced to use where accounts were set up for her.  I read the privacy policy for HMH and this is what I learned about the school setting up my daughter’s account without my permission from HMH’s privacy policy. They state that I consented to:

  • I consent to having private information collected and stored which will be shared with third party vendors and “others”.
  • I consent to HMH using and sharing our information and data and “other activities”.
  • I consent to them using our and my daughter’s personal information, demographic information and usage information for a “variety of purposes”.
  • I consent to tracking technologies that collect and store information for a “variety of purposes” whether my daughter is at home or at school.
  • I consent to their tracking technologies which include, without limitation, these methods: cookies, web beacons, embedded scripts and entity tags which they will, from time to time, supplement with information they collect directly from my daughter with outside records from third parties.
  • I consent to them collecting personal, demographic, and usage information from my daughter for internal business purposes such as troubleshooting, data analysis, testing and service improvement.
  • I consent to them using, sharing and disclosing my and my daughter’s name, voice, likeness and other personal information that is part of the “user content” for advertising, marketing, publicity and promotional items.
  • Finally, giving my consent, they can and will give my information and my daughter’s information to third parties such as network advertisers and ad exchanges such as “Behavioral Ads” and “Contextual Ads”.

I did not consent to any of that.  I was not made aware that the school or school district set that account up for my daughter.  I found out by watching her log in on her personal laptop at home to complete homework.

When I confronted my school district via an email….I was told by the IT manager that it is MY responsibility to reach out to HMH with my concerns.  It is MY responsibility to contact HMH if there are any data breaches.  The data being collected is not limited to demographic information.  The data (education records) being collected has continuously expanded since 2014 to include SEL (Social Emotional Learning) skills which include the student’s values, beliefs, “grit” and attitudes.  How is this data collected?  Through algorithms.  Algorithms that lack transparency that are created to obtain specific information.  Algorithms that a lot of times are inaccurate.  You can read about this in this extremely well-documented article by Cheri Kiesecker.  http://missourieducationwatchdog.com/are-schools-allowing-edtech-software-to-map-every-online-click/

This information and data, which are considered “education records” are being collected and sold to the highest bidder.  https://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2017/08/sold-highest-bidder

Some responsible school districts are offering Opt-In forms to parents.  These school districts are seeking parental permission for their child to participate in and use Edtech software/applications/programs. Here is an example of a responsible school district Opt-In form: http://www.swasd.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Coppa-Combined-Forns-2017-18.pdf

Parents, I cannot urge you strongly enough to look into what Edtech companies your child is using and read their privacy policies.  Look into what your school district has consented YOU to and what accounts have been set up for your child.  Many of these companies’ programs/software/applications are experimental.  Pearson, one of the education titans, was found to be embedding “social-psychological” experimental software in student’s educational and learning software.  https://gizmodo.com/pearson-embedded-a-social-psychological-experiment-in-s-1825367784   Many of the applications our children are using fail to protect their data. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/07/27/we-tested-apps-for-children-half-failed-to-protect-their-data/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.c64b9167b1a6

Thousands of Edtech applications/programs/software are improperly and illegally tracking children.  Another well researched and well-documented article by Cheri.  http://missourieducationwatchdog.com/bombshell-study-thousands-of-educational-apps-are-improperly-tracking-children/

Tech “titans” are unrestricted, unregulated and profit off the backs of many unsuspecting parents and children.   It is a datapalooza free-for-all at the expense of our children.  You may not see any repercussions now…..but I can assure you – you will at some point in your child’s life.

If you feel violated after knowing someone stole your wallet containing your personal information or you experienced a data breach with your medical records, why are you allowing Edtech companies to violate your children?  Why are you allowing schools and school districts to set up accounts for your children without your permission or consent?  Why are you allowing your minor child(ren) to be continuously data mined?

How do we stop the data mining?  By not collecting it in the first place.  By being vigilant and protecting our children.

Consider yourself warned.

Six Reasons Conservatives Should Believe the Defeat of Amendment 8 Was Correct

kareneffremm.d

By: Karen Effrem, M.D. | September 11, 2018 |Sunshine State News

As the Florida Supreme Court considered and ultimately removed Amendment 8, the education constitutional amendment, from the November ballot, there was a debate occurring among Florida conservatives over both the wording and the merits of the proposal.

Part of the amendment allowed entities other than duly elected school boards, to authorize education alternatives, charter schools being chief among them. Some well-meaning conservatives have been arguing that opposition to Amendment 8 was limited only to liberals. These conservatives also said that opposition to Amendment 8 was a “vote for the status quo” where half of students, especially poor students, can’t read at grade level.

The truth is that there were many Floridians who opposed Amendment 8 specifically and are concerned about the rapid expansion of charter schools for conservative reasons. Here are the six most important:

Loss of Local Control

When has moving control of anything farther away from the local level increased parent or citizen control? Putting charter decisions in the hands of Tallahassee legislators or bureaucrats, many funded by the very charter corporations viewed with suspicion by Floridians, will not improve parental or local decision-making. The majority of charters are not high-performing like the Hillsdale classical charter in Collier County. They are corporate charters, the boards of which may not be in the same state or even country (think the controversial Turkish Gulen Harmony Schools), much less the same city or county as the schools they control. The same establishment groups and individuals that gave us Common Core and data mining were promoting this amendment. Neutering and or eliminating duly elected school boards has been on their to-do list for decades.

No Improvement in Curriculum – Still Common Core

While Florida parents may be under the impression that charter schools offer children a superior education, this is often not the case. The curriculum in the majority of charters follows the same Common Core standards used by Florida’s public schools, rebranded as the Florida Standards, and students are tested using the same invasive, Common Core-aligned assessments.

Lack of Financial Stability

Many charters have proven to be fly-by-night operations that go belly-up without warning, abandoning the kids they are supposed to help. These charters leave  local taxpayers on the hook for all of the land, building, and equipment costs – $70 million through 2015. Despite this fact, taxpayers have little to no oversight or decision-making at these schools.

Poor Academic Performance

The academic performance at charters is on the whole no better than public schools, especially at the low end, with data from Texas and Florida showing the same or greater percentages of disproportionally failing charters compared to public schools. These schools often refuse to serve children who need help the most – the poor and disabled. Looking at the demographics of high-performing charter schools, they do not include many of the children who were “waiting for Superman” – they have the kids who are already doing well.

Lack of Transparency

Regardless of one’s opinions of charters, if the ideas behind the charter-related provisions of Amendment 8 were so fabulous, why weren’t the title and language made more clear so that there could be a reasonable debate? Incredibly, the amendment didn’t even mention the word “charter.” Why was this piece of it bundled with two other issues more favored by voters? If 8 was so great, shouldn’t it have been able to plainly stand on its own?

Excessive Government Strings

Co-mingling public funds for other education alternatives mentioned by Amendment 8 proponents would have opened the door widely to further government control of standards, curriculum, testing, and teaching. All parents would get in the end is a choice of location, not a choice of what their kids are taught. Conservative parents who want a true alternative to public schools want real choice without government strings, just as much as public school parents do not want public funds supporting private alternatives.

For these reasons and more, the courts were right to reject Amendment 8. Even if the courts had kept it on the ballot, voters should still have rejected it. Florida’s families deserve better.

Karen R. Effrem, M.D., is executive director of The Florida Stop Common Core Coalition

Teacher Kim Cook on Andrew Gillum & saving Florida public education

RUNNING OUT OF TIME

Florida has been under single party rule for more than 20 years. This complete lack of checks and balances has normalized an unrelenting assault on our most precious asset: public education. With each year, the destructive political intent behind the “school reform” agenda has grown bolder and more extreme. We are at a place where politicians make little attempt to hide their contempt for teachers, students, parents and districts.

 

Alachua teacher, Kim Cook shares her views on just how important the current governors’ race and upcoming 2018 election is to Florida public education:

 

I’ve seen some educators saying on social media that they won’t vote for Andrew Gillum. Here is my response.

For those of you who are saying you won’t vote for Gillum, please consider the following (from a teacher):

The Florida legislature and governor’s office has been Republican for 20+ years. In that 20 years, we have seen nothing but bill after bill with the sole intent of destroying public education. The vast majority of those bills have been signed into law by the governor. Here is a review of the legislation (please add anything I forget):

  1. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush introduced the FCAT in order to track student “progress” ignoring the fact teachers are entirely capable of assessing their own students.
  2. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush then started using FCAT results to grade schools, falsely equating low socioeconomic schools with “bad teaching.”
  3. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush linked passing the third grade FCAT with retention and the 10th grade FCAT with high school graduation–despite research that clearly demonstrated this would be detrimental to students and communities.
  4. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush linked school grades to money–awarding “A” schools with more money and “F” schools with less.
  5. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott connected student test scores to teacher evaluations, otherwise known as VAM.
  6. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott imposed a tax on educators by requiring them to contribute 3% of their salary to their pensions; however, that 3% goes into the general fund, NOT the pension.
  7. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott changed the pension plan by requiring new hires to choose between the defined benefit pension and the 401k plan within the first nine months of their careers. Any educator who doesn’t choose by the required date automatically goes into the 401k plan, undermining the financial health of the defined benefit pension.
  8. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed a law that decertifies any teacher union that falls under 50% membership, making that district’s contract and salary schedule null and void. Unions for first responders were exempt from the law (they are mostly men who vote Republican. after all).
  9. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed legislation creating the “Best and Brightest” program. B&B bypasses providing the money to districts so that it can be put into salary schedules. The B&B money is considered a bonus, so it doesn’t count towards teachers’ pensions. The money also cannot go to “non-instructional personnel”–educators like media specialists (I teach ALL day every day, but nope, I’m not eligible), guidance counselors, deans, etc.
  10. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed legislation that allows voucher schools; thus, tax dollars go to private, often religious, schools, that do not have the same accountability measures as public schools. They have expanded the program just about every legislative session.
  11. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott have created laws to turn over public schools to for-profit charters. We have an entire district in Florida that is now a “charter” district.
  12. Many Republican members of our legislature own or have a vested interest in charter or voucher schools and testing companies, yet they pass legislation that pads their wallets.
  13. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed legislation that requires school districts to harden schools, yet didn’t fully fund the program. They also allow “non-teaching personnel” like me, the school librarian, to carry guns.
  14. The Florida legislature fully intends to continue to destroy our pension bit by bit. My state senator, Keith Perry, admitted this. He told us that the state had no business running a pension program.
  15. From Ceresta Smith: The Republican legislature and Rick Scott made Bright Futures Scholarships harder for non-whites to receive as they upped the bar on standardized tests, which provide advantage based on class and race.

Most likely, our legislature will continue to be Republican dominated. If we don’t have a Democratic governor to veto the legislation that will continue to destroy public schools, destroy our salaries, and decimate our pension, we are sunk. I don’t know about you, but I’m counting on my pension in retirement. I don’t know what we’ll do if it’s not there, or if the state tries to pay us off with a lump sum, as other states have done.

If all Gillum does is veto destructive legislation, he’s still better than having DeSantis who will rubber stamp every horrible anti-public education bill the legislature sends him.” – Kim Cook