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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Don't blink or you might miss how the Florida legislature is really trying to destroy public education

By Julie Delegal

Don’t panic, loyal readers, when you read the next sentence: As a public education advocate, I agree with former Governor Jeb Bush on at least one point—the value of standards-based education. To the extent that it’s not used to put real, live, Florida teachers out of business in favor “Virtual Simon from India,” standards-based education can provide very effective tools for improving academic proficiency among students. Call me old-fashioned, but in this age of internet-borne expertise (and internet-induced functional autism) I still believe that real-time, real-human master-apprentice relationships—coupled with some kick-ass curriculum fluency—make for the best possible learning scenarios. (See Dr. Stephen Gutstein’s body of science, or Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s.) Indeed, the older I get, the more I believe that relationships are the only things that really matter, and not just in the good ol‘ boy business sense.

But for an example of the good ol‘ boy type, check out the meteoric rise of one-time Jeb Bush travel aide, William Piferrer, up through the Governor’s mansion, through the echelons of the Florida DOE, and into an executive position at NCS Pearson. That’s the curriculum/testing/textbook/digitization company that now determines what “academic proficiency” –and “teacher competency”--is in Florida. Oh, yeah, and Pearson just bought a global online learning company in India.

But I digress.

Maybe one day Florida lawmakers really will use actual science to enact policies that are actually good for children. For now, though, they’ll continue to work for what’s good for the standards-writing/curriculum-creating/testing/digitization/remediation/proficiency-determining/teacher-competency-deciding companies for which their friends work. And setting up more charter schools and voucher schools gives them a captive, in-movement market for their wares, which they want you and me to pay for, of course.

(Did I mention that former Governor Bush’s other friend and former campaign operative, Jon Hage, is the CEO of the growing company, CharterSchoolsUSA? We have two of Hage’s for-profit charter schools right here in Jacksonville.)

Meanwhile, expect more in the way of “decoy” legislation like the “Anti-Blaine-Amendment-Amendment,” (see below) as caught by the excellent journalists at the St. Pete Times: ,

who, in turn, dutifully caught a groundbreaking article by Lee Fang at The Nation magazine: “How Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools,” .

Blaine, aka, the “no-aid amendment” to Florida’s constitution, is our state’s version of the separation of church and state principles that emanate from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Blaine prohibits the state government from aiding religious or sectarian organizations. The proposed Amendment 7 would not only undo the Blaine amendment, opponents say, it would go so far as to require the state to fund religious organizations. See Lily Rockwell’s thorough digest of litigation relating to this amendment here:

This ballot initiative is not about private religious school vouchers—we already have those. The tax-credit-voucher corporation, which was set up to accept and relay “scholarships” so the Florida treasury doesn’t have to, is alive and well and diverting more and more would-be tax revenue every year. Bush’s direct vouchers (the ones that would have come from the treasury) weren’t even overturned by the Florida Supreme Court on religious grounds. They were overturned because the Florida constitution demands uniformity amongst its public (tax –supported) schools, and private voucher schools don’t provide it. (See Holmes v. Bush.)

So why is the GOP pursuing the Un-Blaine Amendment? Aside from trying to rile up their religious base on the eve of a presidential election year, there’s only one other answer. Read the article from The Nation Magazine, cited above, or the pertinent pieces that the St. Pete Times caught, also above. We have seen the enemy, Florida teachers, and it’s not religious voucher schools. It’s Virtual Simon from India.

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