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Friday, January 24, 2014

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF) is bad for our schools!

Yes I am talking about the same group that announces Jacksonville’s teacher of the year finalists, the group that has been instrumental in generating community involvement in our schools and who has connected donors with teachers who need supplies too. Yes I am talking about the same JPEF whose members are so cheery and nice that I have no doubt that in their free time rescue puppies and help old ladies across the street. Despite all of that I feel more than comfortable saying they are bad for our schools.

When the JPEF strays over into suggesting policy, their name and their cozy relationships with the chair of the state board of education Gary Chartrand and with superintendent Vitti, gives them instant credibility and this despite the fact they have done nothing to earn it and noting in their background suggests they should have it.  
There is not one person in the entire 11 person staff that has public school teaching experience in Jacksonville or Florida for that matter. According to their bio’s only one has what I would consider real and sustained public school experience, while two others mention their brief time working as Teach for America teachers and in KIPP charter schools. You could find more teaching experience in the lounge of any European Street on a Friday afternoon during happy hour. Now don’t get me wrong I am not saying they are bad people, on the contrary I have met several and find them all affable and earnest but like how you wouldn’t want me, a short chubby teacher with zero ups on your basketball team especially with the game on the line, we shouldn’t want them suggesting or developing policy either.

When the JPEF takes 11 million dollars to bring more Teach for America recruits, which exacerbates our teacher turnover problem and assures students in our neediest schools will have a constantly changing band of novices, to town; they hurt schools, professional teachers and students.

When the JPEF advocates for schools to have a value added measurements (VAM), which by the way is something both education experts and mathematician alike say shouldn’t be used to make high stakes decisions (like grading schools and teachers) they hurt schools, teachers and students.  

When the JPEF shills for Common Core which doesn’t address poverty the real problem in education, siphons untold millions out of schools and classrooms and doubles down on the high stakes testing culture we have that has ruined education for countless teachers and students alike, they hurt schools, teachers and students and I can’t help but think their lack of real experience has led to their horrendous policy ideas and positions.

Sadly in education a lack of experience almost guarantees you a leadership position or a policy development role, because in no other profession where the people that actually do it are ignored or marginalized like teachers are.  

Gary Chartrand the chair of the state board of education who is also on the JPEF’s board and is responsible for bringing the KIPP charter school, Teach for America (TFA) and the scab Professional Educators Network (PEN) to town recently said what the state board needs was a citrus grower and since he is a grocer that makes a certain amount of since. He said this on the same day the state board of education welcomed Rebbecca Fishman-Lipps a recent transplant from New York who has two years of Teach for America experience under her belt, which by the way is two more years of experience than Chartrand has.  That’s right the state’s leading education figure has zero teaching experience. Could you imagine a day when Jacksonville’s sheriff had a background in accounting rather than law enforcement? Would the people of Jacksonville stand for it?

Then there is Arne Duncan the nation’s secretary of education who recently said teachers come from the bottom of the academic barrel and who also said that the reason white suburban soccer moms did not like Common Core was because it showed that their children weren’t as smart as they thought there were. He wants America’s schools to be more like Singapore and South Korea’s (I guess Finland’s schools are too unionized) and like Chartrand he has never taught a day in his life. Can you imagine that? The nation’s top teacher has zero teaching experience. That’s the equivalent of a Supreme Court justice who has a background in plumbing not the law and who’s only judging experience comes from the pie contest at the county fair. Do you think the American people would accept that?

Gary Chartrand never taught a day in his life. School board members Jason  Fischer and Fel Lee never taught a day in their lives, Jeb Bush the architect of Florida’s education system and who plans to run for president on it never taught a day in his life and the staff of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund whose name and close relationships with Gary Chartrand and Dr. Vitti gives them instant credibility have zero public school teaching experience in Jacksonville, in Florida and of the 11 member staff have just a handful of years overall.

It’s no wonder our schools aren’t reaching their potential. The people in charge, the people making policy and signing the checks, for the most part have either no or a laughably inadequate amount of experience. Nobody with legal problems would hire somebody whose experience consisted of watching a Law and Order marathon. Nobody would look to somebody with only first aide training to perform surgery either. And it’s not like there aren’t lots of choices too. There are hundreds of thousands current and former educators who have dedicated their lives to children and who better know what education needs in Florida but instead Rick Scott choose a grocer, a Teach for America Alum with zero experience in Florida and two years over all and is about to pick a citrus grower to be on the state board.

Our public schools undoubtedly have problems but the biggest one by far is a lack of qualified leadership and our schools will undoubtedly continue to have these problems as long as we allow arm chair quarterbacks who never played a down in their life to run the show.

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund, staffed with a bunch of good eggs does some very nice things but they should concentrate on those things and they should without a doubt also stay as far away from dipping into the realm of policy as possible.

They however aren’t the only ones.

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