Rather than continually explain my personal stances on many education issues, I decided for the two year anniversary of the website to compile a list of brief synopses on several challenges facing public education. This page will remain permanent, and will only be updated if and when there is meaningful, positive change brought to these issues.
Politics – I have been a lifelong Independent / NPA. Personally, I believe our two-party system is so corrupt and broken that it is perhaps best to see it as a one party system. Democran? Republicrat? Can anyone tell the difference? While each party might have different views/stances on fringe social issues that only pander to their respective bases, they are certainly bipartisan when it comes to outrageous spending, running deficits, supporting big business and its associated plutocracy, intruding into our personal private lives, etc, etc, etc.
Centrism – As a Religious Studies major who graduated from the University of South Florida, I am profoundly impacted by the philosophy books and sacred texts I have read over the last 25 years. Ancient wisdom is rife with examples of why it is virtuous to always seek the middle path in all we are and do, from Aristotle’s idea of the “Golden Mean” in the West to Siddhartha’s conception of “Madyhamaka” in the East, numerous thinkers across the millennia have demonstrated this is the path that leads to harmony in all relationships. These influences are precisely why I will always seek common ground with others to discover a pragmatic, utilitarian solution that maximizes the good.
Unions – Admittedly, I was not a proponent of unionism for the first decade of my career. I did not belong to my local, Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, even though I had been asked many, many times by one particularly persistent friend. I finally joined in 2013 out of gratitude after HCTA had negotiated the new pay scale that was an economic boon for our family, and I became more involved when I started speaking truth to power in 2016. I have been serving on the Executive Board since 2017, and it is an amazing group of educators with varying backgrounds and political views (Republicans, Democrats, and NPAs are all represented) who always put our students, our local community, and our profession first. If you are an HCPS teacher or ESP who is not a member, please click here to join; if you are outside Hillsborough, please join your local. If you believe your union doesn’t represent you well, all the more reason to get involved and change it from within.
Charters – I have no problem with charter schools or school choice in general as a concept. Here in Hillsborough County Public Schools, we have tons of choice. I myself am a very proud International Baccalaureate instructor who teaches the capstone course, Theory of Knowledge. But no charter school in Florida is what Al Shanker envisioned; originally it was meant to be a hub of innovation run by teachers because they were the experts who knew what learning looked like. This model has been co-opted by large, private, for-profit corporations such as Academica and Charter Schools USA (a.k.a. “CMOs” – Charter Management Organizations). The data show that these schools get approximately the same results with ostensibly “better” students, yet constantly skirt the rules of accountability through various loopholes. Consider yourselves warned, Florida elected officials: if you take money from these companies, I will call you out for it. They are not in this for helping children, only to raid the state’s coffers of its scant tax dollars that are earmarked for the express purpose of educating children. Genuine non-profit charters that serve a niche need in a local community (e.g. Pepin Academies, F.A.C.E., Learning Gate etc) are always welcome and appreciated for giving kids a unique learning experience that works best for them.
Vouchers – Completely unconstitutional, plain and simple. This is Florida, after all, and being a centrist I feel the best solution would be to ensure that the same accountability standards be put in place for ALL “public” schools in Florida. We often hear of a metaphorical “playing field” on which the players are the options for Florida’s parents and students, yet this playing field is increasingly legislatively rigged to ensure only traditional public schools have to play by the rules of this so-called game while letting the others run amok. In no place is this more true in Florida than in our private schools, most of which are religious in nature and face no accountability measures whatsoever.
Funding – Despicable. As a saver and investor who is incredibly frugal, even I know that one must pay for quality if thinking long-term. Clearly the Florida Legislature is completely dependent upon “expanding the economic base” by luring unsuspecting immigrants to the Sunshine State. Once here, people quickly figure out why every publicly funded service is a shoestring solution, from public education, infrastructure, environment to mental health services–you name it–we don’t pay for it. Currently the state of Florida ranks 50th for spending on all public services. Despite the fact that Florida hit the $1 TRILLION dollar mark in GDP in 2018, a distinction that makes us the 17th largest economy IN THE WORLD, we have a budget that spends less than 1/10th of that, with our education system taking the brunt of the unwillingness to invest in a critical public good. Numbers don’t lie. You can’t argue math. I’ve written about this ad nauseam, and this piece in particular sums up this pernicious problem.
Testing – to borrow a phrase from fellow maverick and outspoken critic Billy Townsend, this is the first step in the “test-and-punish” system. Let’s be clear–all the testing madness is driven by the Education Industrial Complex, and Pearson sits at the top. Owning nearly 70% of the entire industry, Pearson controls a vast array of education products and chief among them is their assessment division. Whether its teacher certification tests or the ones kids take in classes, my money is that it is either Pearson or one of its subsidiaries. As teachers who work with kids on a daily basis, we know the reality–testing stresses kids out so that we can roughly have a snapshot of their socioeconomic status while determining the level of educational support they receive at home. That’s about all it’s good for. What’s worse is that testing easily eats up 6 weeks worth of time that could be better spent on actual learning. I survived high school with no major standardized assessments beyond the SAT and I turned out fine. Even one statewide assessment taking in high school to measure a student’s ability to perform the basics of reading, writing and math would be fine. But what we have now? Oh no.
Grades – This is step two of “test-and-punish”. School grades are a complete farce. The numbers are constantly changing, and the state will manipulate data to keep up the ruse. Much of what we do is pass on kids who are not prepared all in the service of the sacred cow, the almighty graduation rates that impact School Grades. When 70% of your system’s “graduates” who attend two year community colleges, as well as 50% of students entering into four year universities, need remediation in those aforementioned basics of reading, writing, and math, you got problems. But these are the types of problems that can easily be masked with branding of letter grades on schools. And with funding being tied to school grades, in addition to the constant threat of state takeover, all 67 districts are forced to play an insidious game of go-along-to-get-along, which only leads to more suffering on the part of students and the caring adults in any role at a school house who look after them. We must significantly reduce the testing and completely eliminate school grades.