Saturday, July 8, 2017

Betsy DeVos’ Model for Perfect Primary & Secondary Education: Florida

Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos is not particularly well-educated and never really has had to compete in the real work world herself. But she makes no bones about her antipathy for public schools, which by law (separation of church and state under the First Amendment), must remain secular. A science skeptic evangelical, DeVos comes from a very wealthy family long dedicated to introducing fundamentalist doctrine to school-aged children at the expense of established scientific facts. Since adding faith-based instruction to government-run public schools cannot legally be accomplished, DeVos has strongly backed indirect “public education” through private schools, which often means charter schools that are welcome to introduce religious views of “science.” These private charter alternatives would still be government-funded: residents would be given vouchers to spend on education as they see fit.
Rich folks would get subsidies for their kids’ chi chi private schools. The rest would have to do with deeply-underfunded public schools or often second-rate but affordable charter schools. Florida’s schools have been notoriously subpar for a while, but with taxpayer money siphoned off to fund those vouchers, they are eroding even faster. And in Florida, a passing grade for a primary or secondary school “pass” is a pretty low bar.
Simply put, Betsy’s dream system is based on Florida’s existing voucher system and the numerous charter schools that have arisen to meet the demand. With a wide swatch of Bible Belt, in Northern Florida that almost always means fundamentalist Christian doctrine-driven primary and secondary charter schools. Religious-based “science” trumps facts.
So if Florida is DeVos’ model, it might be interesting to take a look at how well that state’s charter schools are doing in providing solid educations for its young people who, eventually, will be competing head-to-head in a world where secular, genuine science and math are priorities. In modern countries, religious doctrine has little or no part in education. Will these youngsters be adequately prepared for college and/or that globalized work world?
Let’s look at an analysis (by Scott Maxwell) from a local Central Florida newspaper, the July 6th Orlando Sentinel, hardly a bastion of left wing reportage. “For years, Florida politicians have trashed public schools, describing them as ‘failures.’… Traditional public schools get it wrong, they say… Charter schools get it right, they say.
“We need to take money away from ‘failing’ traditional schools and give more of it to charter schools, they say…  Yet when school grades were released this past week, not a single traditional school inOrange County received an F… Five charter schools did… Yes, every single ‘failing’ school in Orange County was a charter school.
“The numbers looked similar statewide. Less than 1 percent of traditional public schools earned F’s. But 3.4 percent of charter schools did… That means charter schools were more than three times as likely to fail… I don’t think either of these models should be classified a ‘failure.’ But if one of them has a failure problem, it obviously isn’t traditional… If facts matter, this should be a wake-up call.
“After the grades were released, I sent notes to the offices of [Florida] House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, asking how anyone could possibly argue that traditional schools are failing when charter schools are failing three times as often.
“Negron didn’t respond. Corcoran noted that ‘no educational model is immune’ to problems, but noted that charter schools earned far more A’s than F’s. (Right. Just like traditional schools … which Corcoran called ‘failure factories’)... He went on to say that he would continue to push for accountability and that charter schools with consecutive F’s ‘will be shut down.’” In fairness, there were also more “A’s” among charter schools than in the public system.
Trump/DeVos also believe that educational systems and evaluation standards need to be relegated to the states and the local school districts, and that federal student tuition loans for predatory for-profit colleges and tech schools that mislead students’ job prospects might just not be worthy of the Obama administration bailout of that debt. Sorry misled students! Gotta support dem private schools. You mean like Trump University? 18 states and the District of Columbia are challenging her freezing that debt-relief program in court. Even the federal tuition loan forgiveness programs – for workers (who work for more than a decade) in non-profits or government – and limits on what percentage of a post-school income can be extracted to repay such tuition loans are on the chopping block. X, Y and Z generations. Red alert!
Trump’s federal education budget pares aid to education substantially, but DeVos’ ideal would be to eliminate public schools altogether in favor of a voucher-driven private school system. Lots more religious-schools. Fraudulent educational marketing? Gimme more! Do you really believe that education will improve under her schema?
I’m Peter Dekom, and reality imposes harsh penalties on those who believe that facts and hard education must submit to faith-based dictates and controls; those countries that compete with us simply hope that people like Betsy DeVos further undermine our remaining competitive advantage.


Anonymous said...

The Orlando Sentinel piece also says:

"But there’s something else you need to know: These school grades are sometimes just plain stupid.

"Need proof? Consider this: Three of the “failing” charter schools in Orange County are run by UCP (formerly United Cerebral Palsy) and specialize in teaching special-needs students.

"Some of these kids can’t speak. Others can’t hold their own heads up. It is utterly ridiculous to slap F’s on these schools.

"I’ve seen UCP teachers in action. They transform lives. Yet the Florida Department of Education just labeled their schools a failure.

"That’s beyond frustrating for UCP’s CEO Ilene Wilkins.

" “The gains that these kids make — where they come from and where they end up — that’s what you have to look for,” she said.

"See, test scores are significantly affected by students’ backgrounds, regardless of where they go to school. That means schools that serve special-needs, extra-poor or at-risk populations will usually fare poorer in standardized tests … and not because their teachers stink.

"Wilkins said her staff could theoretically fight to exempt more of her special-needs students from taking these tests. But she likes challenging them, saying: “I’m not going to sell a child out to make sure we get a good grade.”

"That is the difference between an educator and a politician.

"Educators try to help students. Politicians play games with them.

"For two decades, politicians in this state have trashed teachers, underfunded education and bogged down schools with testing mandates and cumbersome regulations."

It wasn't always this way. Florida education in the 90s saw improvements in spending from that of the 80s by about double, from mainstream to exceptional and ESOL education programs. This improvement transcended state party politics. Florida can do this again.

On the bright side US News ranked Florida number 1 for university education, on the standard of highest percentage of university students completing college. Florida Lottery funded "Bright Futures" university scholarships keep many of the best students in-state for university. At a time when a college education is seen as necessary for the new economy's careers and college loan debt is in the trillions, this is certainly a reason to call Florida the Sunshine State.

Emily Graham

Anonymous said...

Florida ranks 40th in the United States in per student spending according to Wallethub (California is an abysmal 39th so it cannot get smug), but unlike California - which has quite a few top 40 schools (e.g., Stanford, Cal Tech, Berkeley, UCLA, USC, UCI, etc., etc.), Florida has none. Once again, this suggests that too many of Florida's colleges all-too-frequently are nothing much more than high school-make-goods. All students in this country deserve the best we can provide. And colleges cannot simply be substitutes for sub-par high schools.

Anonymous said...

Apparently the Chancellor of California Community Colleges agrees that California's colleges should not substitute for its subpar high schools..... He suggested dropping the Algebra requirement for Associates Degrees in non-STEM majors.

Emily Graham