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Public Education in Florida: Everything New Is Old Again

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By Jerry Waxman

As submitted to the Huffington Post

There’s this great scene in the movie, All That Jazz featuring Anne Reinking and Erezebet Foldi doing a dance routine to the Peter Allen-Carole Bayer Sager song, Everything Old is New Again. In Florida the title needs to be convoluted somewhat as it applies to our education policies, or as I now prefer to call it Karen Anijar-Appleton’s “Fruitcake Theory”. Dr. Anijar-Appleton, writing in the American Journal of Bioethics in 2004 said:

“Twelve years ago cultural theorist L. Grossberg (1992) wrote a theory surrounding “the rock formation” (as in rock ‘n’ roll). What initially might seem to be an oppositional genre of expression is modified in order to gain wider acceptance, usurping libidinal and affective qualities for hegemonic purposes. I often speak about educational reforms as fruitcake. I believe that there are only a few Christmas fruitcakes in the world. Every year somebody somewhere (perhaps you) receives one of the fruitcakes as a gift. The next year you take the fruitcake out of storage, rewrap and send it on to someone else. But, no matter how you repackage it, it is still the same fruitcake.

Fruitcake (as in nutty as a) aptly describes the goings on in Tallahassee right now. HB 7189 is due to be voted on in committee on April 5. There will be widespread protests in Tallahassee, as well as Florida representatives’ local offices throughout the state by teachers and the teacher unions, parents, school board administrators and many other concerned citizens. Rather than rehash the details, everything we need to know is on Facebook at Stop Senate Bill 6. These bills have been inspired by research done at think tanks like The Heritage Foundation and The American Enterprise Institute just to name two. The whole idea is to scare all of us into thinking that our schools are lagging behind. They even fooled premiere educators like Diane Ravitch for a while to think that corporate style accountability for teachers and rigid standardized testing are the proper things to do. Also taken in by the US Chamber of Commerce was The Center for American Progress who unwittingly collaborated on publishing Leaders and Laggards a basis for the reforms, proving that we must always be vigilant of their motives and tactics. Ravitch has acknowledged that she was wrong and has since published her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, which is a scathing criticism of the arguments currently being proffered by the reformers. She recently wrote an article in the Washington Post dealing with this called A New Agenda For School Reform. John Podesta, head of the CAP still has egg on his face for trying to be “bi-partisan”.

This all started more than 50 years ago during the Eisenhower Administration. Sputnik changed everything. There were articles published in every news magazine stating that Russian schools were superior to ours and that we had focused too much on well rounded education rather than dealing with hard specifics, you know…..readin’ ritin’ rithmetic and results, and we bought it, hook, line and sinker. Of course, none of it was true. The late Gerald Bracey, a highly respected education professor spent his career fighting that kind of thinking and approach to education. I didn’t know him other than he was a fellow Huffington Post contributor and an age contemporary. We were both in high school when Sputnik launched. He passed away late last year discounting Leaders and Laggards as having no impact. It’s probably one of the very few times in his career that he was wrong. His article was published in September 2009 shortly before his death. Here is his article titled Leaders and Laggards-Vanishes.

His article dealing with the Sputnik debacle, The Big Engine That Couldn’t, deals with the fact that we could have beaten the Russians easily and that our schools had nothing to do with our failure to launch first. This was a political decision by our government to let the Russians go first. Since somebody had to take the blame for this why not the schools? They were and continue to be a convenient scapegoat. It’s a fascinating read. Another post by Bracey titled The Center For American Progress: Progressively Regressive takes the Center and, indeed, all of us to task for ever trusting any of the right wing reformers ever. This next article by Bracey, The Evolution of the Schools Suck Bloc, details the history of the fact-free reasoning behind the thinking processes. These references are merely thumbnail sketches, but you can Google Gerald Bracey and become familiar with his work and research, and I suggest you do. To further examine the phenomenon of our failing schools and our failing kids Dr. Anijar-Appleton sent this link to an article by Mike Males, a Sociology Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Dr. Males specializes in youth issues and in this article, Coming of Age in America, he compares youth statistics from years ago to today and finds the adults coming up short.

I also wonder why there are provisions in the bill to allow non-traditionally trained people into the classroom. What would cause someone with a marketing degree working in the private sector suddenly want to become a classroom teacher for a lot less money? There’s one logical answer. The logical answer is simple; they don’t intend to be teachers forever. They can get valuable OJT for a couple of years and then apply to start their own charter schools on the public’s money, where they can make a profit. The other answer is it would attract people adept at gaming the system-those who would only be in it to teach to the testing, thereby making as much money as their scores will allow. If test scores are the indication of a good teacher there’s going to be a bunch of opportunists with top ratings who couldn’t actually teach their way out of a paper bag. Here’s a great article by Dade County teacher Jennie Smith called Senate Bill 6 will improve public education–True or False which really gets to the point.

The implications go far beyond the State of Florida. Florida will become the laboratory test for this kind of legislation in many other Republican controlled states. If it passes here it will spread to Alabama next then Georgia, Mississippi and…..well, you get the picture. Last year my article, Florida Voter Suppression, detailed how the legislature tried to limit voter registration by third parties, specifically ACORN, but the bill never made it to the floor. Since ACORN is no longer a force there is no need for the bill to be resurrected. The damage has been done and we’re going to feel its effects for a long time to come. ACORN could have been a positive force in working in the poorer neighborhoods with disadvantaged kids helping them improve their academic efforts. Had that legislation passed other states like Ohio and Missouri were ready to fall in line.

The invisible hand behind these machinations is Jeb Bush. Bush now has Florida Senate President John Thrasher as head of the Florida Republican Party and together they can accomplish what Bush was not able to during his last term as Governor. Thrasher controls the purse strings for all Republican candidates. If it is successful here watch it spread across neighboring states. Fruitcake anyone?

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