"Well, ya got trouble, my friend right here, I say trouble right here in River City*....."
In the musical The Music Man, the story's central character, a con artist, convinces the town in turn of the 20th century Iowa that the local pool hall is turning the town's youth into lazy, shiftless and irresponsible juveniles who will grow up to be ne'er-do-wells if the townspeople don't take action now (emphasis on the word now). He proposes a solution, a boys' band, in order to profit from the situation. Of course, he never actually teaches them to play their instruments, nor does he ever actually present his credentials to the local school board officials, who never seem to agree with each other.
It's one of the oldest cons in the book; create a non-existent problem and then propose the exact solution. Termite inspectors have successfully done this for years. Even if you don't have termites you will after they inspect you. Public education has been the target of these con artist reformers for years dating back to the Eisenhower administration's failure to beat the Russians into space.
The late Dr. Gerald Bracey exposed the myth in his article The Big Engine That Couldn't. He spent his life battling education reformers and education bamboozlers until his passing a few years ago.
What passes for reform now is actually a privatization swindle set up by former governor Jeb Bush. Florida was the incubator for what passes as school reform today. Jeb, through his foundations, pushed school vouchers, charter schools, rigid testing and the word school choice, which is code for segregation. It's also interesting that his brother's No Child Left Behind legislation was modeled on standards and rigid testing four years after Jeb became governor in 1998. Add to that mix David Coleman, current head of the College Board, who went to billionaire Bill Gates to help him develop the common core standards. Gates never met a data outcome he didn't like so he, Eli Broad and the Walton family opened the flood gates as it were and inundated us with all sorts of reform because "our schools were failing." There never was any evidence that the allegations were true, but gazillions of dollars in the proper hands buys an awful lot of influence and legislation.
Neither the Florida legislature nor Governor Scott and his Dept. of Education will offer any help here at all. They've all been stricken by the reform virus or variations of it and are laying down stringent guidelines to the individual districts while opening the cash box to outside privatizing interests.
This has completely demoralized public school teachers, one of the noblest of professions, to the point that over 3000 teachers, almost 25 percent of the entire teaching force in Orange County, have left the system in the last few years. A recalcitrant School Board doesn't help either. The Orange County teachers finally got their raise last week based on whether they were highly effective or not by a flawed evaluation system. The Board, at its discretion could have ignored the state directive for last year, however it chose not to. The teachers are furious over this Board action which reinforces the opinion that the Board itself has lost its objectivity and is focusing on money management instead of advocating for the children.
High school mathematics teacher Joshua Katz finally had his Howard Beale moment last month when he got mad as hell and swore not to take it anymore. His TED video, released last month, dealing with his frustrations within the system, took almost a year to come to fruition yet it is a masterpiece, intelligent, articulate and very well produced. The video has enjoyed many thousands of hits and will doubtless see even more in the future. It is a textbook example of what is wrong with the entire reform movement.
On June 18 Katz took another step out of the frying pan and announced that he is a candidate for School Board in District One, a move widely hailed by the classroom teachers and the progressive community. He will be running against a three term former board chairman, Joie Cadle, whose only real qualification is that she was active in the PTA when her sons were in school. Cadle is the chief stumbling block that prevented the teachers from getting their raises in 2010, and according to the Classroom Teachers Association she's clueless when it comes to analyzing budgets and allows staff to do her thinking for her. Come to think of it a math teacher with guts would be a welcome sight in that morass on Amelia Street.
Katz realizes that being on the board is still an uphill battle since many rules and guidelines are set and mandated by the state, yet he's willing to try his best. If he thought that dealing with this school board is tough he's going to have to get even tougher to deal with Tallahassee if he wins the election. Judging from his videos and his passion he could go a long way. He presents himself beautifully and is engaging at all times. One other asset that comes across is that he is inspiring. He clearly loves his work and always puts his students ahead of even himself.
All during his TED talk and his announcement he never once complained about the teachers' plight on being evaluated, and he never mentioned the non respect that teachers everywhere have been receiving from pro reformers. It was always about the students and how the system affects them and their families. You get the feeling that he would gladly make all kinds of sacrifices to benefit his students. What's not to love about that? That's the epitome of being a teacher. Let's thank Joie Cadle for her 12 years of service, and let's send Joshua Katz to Amelia Street on August 26.