Dumping for me, but not for thee; The Big Lie

I do apologize if this stuff gets repetitive; but it only gets that way because the war effort against traditional schools — and their teachers and parents and kids — launches a new missile seemingly every day. And over and over again, poor Merissa Green, whom I know and like very much, helps the shameless people fighting it.

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So let’s look Merissa’s most recent story about state Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-McKeel/Grade Parents. Stargel doesn’t want the School District to create charter schools for “struggling students.”

Her objection, seemingly, is a moral one:

Although taking struggling students out of the regular student population would probably increase the schools’ grades from the state, Stargel said she worries about the oversight of the so-called Step Up Academies.

The student population proposed for each of these charters would be too small to meet the criteria to receive a state school grade.

That means no student performance would be tied to teacher or administrator evaluations — a new mandate implemented last year by the Florida Legislature.

That’s good of Stargel to worry about these kids on the margin. Important to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks. Indeed, Stargel’s concern about School District dumping of “difficult” kids is virtually identical to mine about McKeel and, to a lesser extent, the magnet schools. You could boil my entire argument down to this, really:

Although taking struggling students out of the [McKeel’s] regular student population would probably increase [McKeel’s] grade from the state, Stargel said she worries about the oversight of the [the kids McKeel dumps].

So surely, Kelli Stargel been one of the leading voices calling for accountability for McKeel. Right? Not so much.

Let’s review a few key points:

1) Kelli Stargel’s husband John, a judge and fellow cog in the local Republican machine, is on the 2011-2012 McKeel board. Entrepreneurial conservatives, both of them.

2) And as I wrote a while back in a post called “The Predatory Charter Fail Parade Wants To Franchise Itself,” Kelli Stargel is responsible for the “high performing” status law for charters. As I wrote at the time:

This status depends on the stupid and opaque and chronically-inflated school grade measure. It’s even more stupid and opaque than the FCAT. In a practical sense –- by which I mean how Harold Maready will get paid out of it -– high performing status allows McKeel to cut the administrative fees it pays to the Polk district and set up other little predatory McKeel empires from the Atlantic to the gulf.

The bill’s sponsor was none other than our own stateswoman Kelli Stargel.

Thus, Stargel helps her own school get rewarded for doing precisely what she wants to criticize the School District for doing. And then she wants to grade parents. But only the right kind of parents.

In a woman of less acute amorality, her mind and conscience would disappear into a singularity of cognitive dissonance. (I would love to make #gradekellistargel a hashtag thing, but I’m not much of tweeter. Feel free to help.)

3). Don’t really need a three, but feel free to chime in.

Let me be clear. I think it’s obvious that the School District is doing these charters to get these kids off their books – in terms of scores and school grades. They’re taking a page from McKeel’s books. That’s morally troubling. However, that doesn’t necessarily make these charters a bad idea. I’m not qualified to assess how “troubled” kids learn best. This may be the right thing to do on the merits. But the merits DO NOT MATTER in this world.

The incentives Kelli Stargel and her friends like Seth McKeel — chairman of the McKeel board — have created reward educators for treating kids like bad loans to write off. It’s hard to blame the district for thinking of kids as hot potatoes rather than kids. That’s how you win in “competition” based schooling. You cheat.

This all highlights yet again the central reality of Polk’s two-track school system. By my rough calculations, about 35 percent of Polk kids attend school within the charter, choice, and magnet bloc. This is generally the track for the wealthy class and the anxious 4-year-degree middle class. It’s the “leadership” class. For now, that includes my son. It also included, at various times, my older kids.

About 65 percent attend the traditional school bloc. It’s the track for the high school degree class and the poor. At various times, my older kids were part of this bloc at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Movement from the 65 percent bloc to the 35 percent is a social “step up.” Movement from the 35 percent to the 65 percent is a demotion.

In reality, I have found the quality of instruction my kids received in these two tracks the same, with far greater variation within individual schools than between types of schools. The two best teachers I encountered were at Crystal Lake Middle and the former Lime Street Elementary (now Phillip O’Brien).

The 65 percent of kids in the traditional bloc serve exactly one purpose to the Stargels and McKeels of the world. They are spreadsheet cells to be used in marketing. Look, those kids and their schools and their parents suck. Come be with other special kids and parents at our taxpayer-funded private school. That has a bonus of attacking traditional public education as the failed welfare program the Stargels and McKeels of the world believe it to be.

This works for now because the parents of the 35 percent, I would argue, spend an inordinate amount of time and effort worrying what their children say about them. To fall out of the charter and magnet class, at a time of great economic stress and anxiety, is to fall out of the middle class entirely. And, of course, every truly wealthy child is advanced and special. Just ask their parents.

My current circumstances, in which my family straddles the line between middle class and upper-middle, cause me to grapple with both of those corrosive instincts at the same time. I fail almost every day in fighting these instincts — from the classroom to the ball field. But I like to think I do fight. On Father’s Day, I think I can do my kids no greater service than to fight those instincts as hard as I can.

But you can see how effective marketing marketing that preys on these instincts can be. The idea that the “leadership class” might not be so terribly different from the dirty masses is terrifying. So it’s important for the leadership class to lie — both about itself and the dirty masses — so as to keep up the fiction of a difference.

And that’s why I keep writing these pieces, even if nobody comments or notices. I hate impunity. I hate lying. And I really hate lying about kids and people who try. And I absolutely will not lie about other people’s kids and the people who devote their lives to them to justify my own weaknesses and choices. If you ever catch me doing it, tear me to pieces.

I’m not going to let Kelli Stargel do it either, if I can help it. When she says she’s worried about the oversight of these “Step-up” charters, all available evidence is she is lying. As is everyone else who laments “kids these days” without including their own. McKeel needs the School District to eat the scores of the kids its doesn’t want to teach so it can continue to market against them and the rest of the 65 percent who aren’t particularly troubled and deserve much better than what the 35 percent are selling them about themselves.

In case you missed it, crime nationally dropped again in 2011. That’s been happening — more or less — for 20 years. It fell in the face of a depression for the less wealthy young people who tend to commit crime and get caught. And it fell in the face of an insane, pointless drug war waged by the feckless old against the young.

Teen pregnancy is at a 40-year low.

And, of course, I’ve shown that kids and teachers at traditional and poorer schools overachieve on test scores based on the demographic predictions of their student bodies. Fancy school kids, the leadership class kids, underachieve. Life doesn’t end at 18. No one will ask about the FCAT in your 30s. So I’m betting on the overachievers, the 65 percent. They and their parents are fighting inch-by-inch for every scrap they have in a game rigged against them. In a world that lies about them every day.

They have precious few defenders on the political left or right. If nothing else, I’m going to defend them here against Kelli Stargel and the liars and hypocrites and of the 35 percent. I’m sorry if that makes me tiresome.


Creative Commons License image credit: Neenah History