The last refuge of a “reform” scoundrel — and some questions for Heather Wright

I suspect that a number of my regular “conservative” sparring partners will find the third paragraph in this fabulous comment in support of Heather Wright as amusing as I do. But I’d actually like you to note the parts I’ve highlighted in bold. They’re far more important.

I’ve said for a long time that the education choice/reform movement is openly segregationist on the political right. On the political left, it’s willfully blind and intentionally self-deluding. My commenter’s quotes demonstrate this willful blindness beautifully. Here’s the whole thing from the commenter calling him/herself “Jon Katz”.

I hope that Heather Wright does resign. Not for the reasons that you give but because she is clearly too good for our district. Look back over the “articles” you’ve written. She brought grant funds to the district? She traveled to present research and to learn from others in the field? She’s getting a doctorate degree? You first say she’s spending too much money traveling, then you get angry because she didn’t bill the district for local trips. Wow.

Let’s move on to the whole “skin in the game” argument. Do you think that you and your little group have more skin in the game when it comes to the Polk education system? Let’s compare: someone who is spending her life working for the students of Polk versus disgruntled former employees who quit the district and never looked back. How many of the people in your little group are either active Polk employees, or have their own children enrolled in Polk’s public schools?

Finally, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. She’s a Jewish woman, hired by a black woman, working in a district not known for its tolerance. Your articles are very personal, very nasty, and not very fact-based. I have to question your true motives. Have you attempted to interview her, to hear both sides? What work have you done to fact check? You admit yourself that you don’t know anything about some of the topics and then proceed to sling accusations around without bothering to do your research. Sloppy work. I’m guessing your professors taught you better than that.

If she does resign, it will be exactly what your little crew deserves. Keep sending your kids to charter and private schools and enjoy your 5 minutes of fame, while the less fortunate children of Polk public schools get to enjoy remaining at the bottom of the state.

First, let’s pet the elephant. Heather Wright was actually hired by a white woman named Kathryn LeRoy, which means…what, exactly?

And I possess no particular Geiger Counter of Jewishness. I have no way of knowing if Jon Katz is correct about Wright’s religion or cultural heritage. I can’t imagine anything less productive or germane to our discussion than trying to figure it out.

I do know that if Jon has interest in Jewish or racial history as it relates to Florida, he should visit my other website. It’s called “Blood and Oranges.” My friend and fellow amateur historian Dan Weinfeld and I publish our essays there. Dan’s a particular expert in Florida Jewish history. He’s been published in the academic journal Southern Jewish History. I recommend this five-part piece of awesomeness about the murder of pioneering Florida Jew Louis Witkovski and the sensational trial that followed.

Looking at my work, you’ll see that Florida’s racial/sectarian history — and how it relates to its present — is basically all I’ve thought about and written about for eight years. I’ve produced one book about it already; and I’ll have a second in a month or so.

Maybe Jon can guess how he and Heather Wright and the “reform” movement fit in to my rigorously developed perceptions of how racism and class-based structures worked in history and work today.

Seriously, dude: I’m pretty easy to Google.

Some questions for Heather Wright

Now, let’s get to substance.

It’s odd. Jon attacks me for attacking Wright over her dissertation. But I don’t think I’ve ever done that. I’ve gone back and read my pieces; and I don’t even think I’ve mentioned it. It’s true that I’ve heard rumblings that Wright’s dissertation might depend on Polk children’s data. But I couldn’t even confirm she was pursuing a doctorate until yesterday. Prompted by Jon Katz, I happened to come across the program I kept for The Ledger’s testing forum. It contained a very helpful bio.

[Wright] is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of South Florida, with a concentration in instructional technology and a cognate in educational measurement. Mrs. Wright serves as the chair of the Central Florida Assessment Collaborative, a cooperative group of 61 Florida school districts working together to implement best practices in assessment.

So in the spirit of getting both sides, I have some questions for Heather Wright. I would be thrilled to publish her answers.

1) Are you using Polk County children’s data in your pursuit of a doctorate? If so, who gave you permission to do that? If so, do your data needs affect your pursuit of Polk testing and assessment policies?

2) Wright’s a busy woman. In her time with Polk County, she has pursued a phD; served as CFAC chair; traveled constantly all over the country; served as secretary of the Florida Educational Research Association (FERA); overseen the $4.3 million CTE grant; and co-ordinated IBTP question development. All of that seems like much more than a full time job.

And that’s before we ever get to her actual full-time job, which is Polk County’s senior director of Assessment, Accountability, and Evaluation.

Here’s the question for Wright: can you document that you spent at least 40 hours per week doing your Polk County job? Indeed, I think you can consider this a public records request. I want to know what percentage of your time you spent serving the children and taxpayers of Polk County versus the adults of CFAC, FERA, IBTP, and any other acronym not spelled POLK.

3) Both Jon Katz and Wright herself talk about the grant money she brought to Polk County as if it is a grant for Polk County, to be spent in Polk County. Here’s how Wright put it in the very misleading answer she gave to my first travel question:

“These trips are related to the Career/Technical Education grant that was awarded to the district.”

If this $4.3 million grant was indeed “awarded to the [Polk] district,” why did we spend at least $2.7 of it somewhere else, specifically “outside” of Polk County? Why were Polk’s teachers hurriedly urged to write test questions late in the 2015 school year and told this:

“During the five day ordeal, spread over five weeks, we learned that there was an original $4-million grant that was intended for the purpose of writing these exams, but there was only $400,000 (I think, maybe $300,000) left to pay us to become question writers and then create our questions.”

4) Wright’s test forum bio states that CFAC member are “working together to implement best practices in assessment.” Can you please document a specific “best practice in assessment” that you’ve implemented and how it has helped Polk County teachers do their jobs and improved the educational experience for Polk students?

These are questions that a Polk School District internal auditor might think about looking into.

With friends like these: the core moral bankruptcy of “educrats” and “reformers”

Let’s revisit Jon Katz’s most important quotes. They’re just vital to understanding the moral destruction the “reform” movement has wrought in its actual on-the-ground execution.

Do you think that you and your little group have more skin in the game when it comes to the Polk education system? Let’s compare: someone who is spending her life working for the students of Polk versus disgruntled former employees who quit the district and never looked back. How many of the people in your little group are either active Polk employees, or have their own children enrolled in Polk’s public schools?

Very briefly, the answers to these questions are: Absolutely yes. And virtually all — 98 percent or more.

What’s illuminating here is that Jon Katz claims to believe that Heather Wright is “spending her life working for the students of Polk.” No she’s not. She spending her life working with adults and data. She’s spending her life avoiding kids. Indeed, I wonder about the last time she even spoke to a Polk student. That’s a bit of hyperbole; but no one I’ve talked to has ever even seen her at a school.

In this, she’s the perfect emblem of the reform/choice/accountability movement as a whole — and its utter and complete indifference to how human beings experience it. Jon Katz says this spitefully:

“Keep sending your kids to charter and private schools and enjoy your 5 minutes of fame, while the less fortunate children of Polk public schools get to enjoy remaining at the bottom of the state.”

It’s true that charters are generally lumped in with “reform” as a concept. So that’s kind of a muddled insult. And maybe Heather Wright doesn’t even think of herself as a “reformer.” But I think it’s safe to say that the entire modern educratic class — which Wright embodies so perfectly — grows out of the greater reform movement.

And if there’s one thing we know about reformers generally, and Heather Wright specifically, its this: what children “enjoy” — or feel in any way — could not matter less to them. Indeed, only one thing matters less — what teachers enjoy or feel.

Here’s the core truth of public education today.

It’s hard, grinding work to get up every day and sell a lesson to students. There is no way around that daily confrontation. Reformers fear it. They get out of the classroom as soon as they can. They can make much more money — and live much more happily — barking out orders and doling out judgement to people willing to take on the duty they won’t. It’s a hell of a lot more fun to fly to Chicago and present nifty data doo-hickies at a panel than go face-to-face everyday with a hyper 13-year-old for whom you’re on the hook for teaching pre-algebra.

As School Board candidate Becky Troutman astutely pointed out:

“Our children aren’t happy, our parents aren’t happy, and our teachers aren’t happy,” she said. “None of our stakeholders are happy, and I think our system can do better than that.”

Guess who is happy.

Heather Wright. And the people who get to play with data and judgement without any accountability of their own. It’s good to be them these days. And if the people on the ground are unhappy with their endless requirements? Tough.

People who object to reform BS are just afraid of accountability, afraid to work harder. Even racist and anti-semitic, according to Jon Katz. We’re literally anything reformers can think to say about us — except justified.

Reformers, especially those on the “left,” are moral cowards. (Those on the right are just segregationists. They’re more open about it, though.)

I am also a moral coward. I would serve my country, my community, and my fellow man far better if I sacrificed a big chunk of my income and went toe-to-toe in the classroom with the kids I claim to love so much. I know this. I know it.

But I’m not trying to cover it up with spreadsheets and jargon-soaked, wannabe TED talks. The happiness and well-being of the people willing to take on the duty I won’t matters deeply to me. As does the happiness and well-being of children — my own and everybody else’s.

The “reform” movement, whatever its original moral imperatives, is the educational equivalent of the Drug War. It’s been around for arguably two decades now. The only thing it has delivered to the American educational experience is a teacher shortage. That’s because “reformers” far, far, far prefer adults to children. Heather Wright should go hang out with them permanently. It wouldn’t be much of a difference, I think.

Oh, and one last thing, Heather. With supporters like “Jon Katz” and “Ally,” you hardly even need me. Thank them for me, please.

3 thoughts on “The last refuge of a “reform” scoundrel — and some questions for Heather Wright

  1. So I guess they’re trying to suggest you’re anti-Jewish because you disagree with the actions of a particular person? Pffft. They have the wrong guy.

  2. Thank you! I taught upper elementary for 34 years, and have been volunteering, almost full time since 2004 in schools classified as struggling – meaning poor test scores. Please keep advocating for teachers, students, and parents. Please tell it like it is.

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