Friday, May 15, 2015

An astute and concerned reader


My May 11 post, “An informed electorate is our best defence,” elicited some great reader responses, most of which were conveyed to me privately. In this post, I want to share with you one that was made anonymously through the Sparker’s Soapbox website. The writer appears to be someone who is following the School Board closely and has given the situation a great deal of thought.

(S)he began with this comment that illustrates the chilling effect a few litigious community members and public-records-requesters are having on the public’s freedom of speech:
I’ll take advantage of this opportunity to make an anonymous post, because the reformers’ threats of lawsuits and other tactics make it difficult to speak freely. Thank you for offering a safe space to speak.
(S)he then offered this assessment of the strategy of the two junior School Board members and their supporters, and where she fears it will lead:
A strategy revealed: first undermine confidence, then replace with something new (but not necessarily better)

Collier County education reformers are an odd mix of libertarians (who support home-rule and gun rights, but oppose censorship), conservative parents (who want to take control of instructional materials to protect children from immoral works), ultra-conservatives (“real” conservatives who have “freed themselves” from the Republican Party), and parent fans of the new board members.

This appears to be their strategy:
  1. Replace the superintendent with someone who will let the board control operations.
  2. Replace two of the three senior board members with reformers in 2016. Presumably, that’s why the parent-attorneys and their elected officials are targeting Mrs. Curatolo for lawsuits. [See here and here.] Which reformer will try to replace her - one of the parent-attorneys who orchestrated the lawsuits, or a homeschooling mother who wants to enforce high standards of purity in the classroom? [Don’t miss this YouTube video starring that mother, titled “The Brainwashing and Indoctrination of Our Children.”]
  3. Opt out of testing and dump federal standards, so no one will know how well Florida students are doing.
  4. Censor all instructional materials. However, do not use the “C” word, please. Reformers prefer "textbook review.” Remove all references to what reformers call “victims rights,” such as Japanese internment camps or Chinese coolie laborers. Finally, delete references to communism, socialism, climate change, overpopulation, because if no one uses these words, these things disappear.

These reformers have not articulated a detailed plan for the public education. Based on campaign promises, we can expect more public funds to be diverted to charter schools, which will adopt the Hillsdale College Charter School model, like Mason Classical Academy (where [School Board member] Lichter and [School Board member] Donalds’ husband are on the board). This model emphasizes fact memorization over critical thinking, ancient classics over modern classics. If that doesn’t sound bad, consider that Collier County’s advanced studies courses (Advanced Placement, Cambridge AICE, dual enrollment) all require students to think critically.

Low standards and double standards do not make for an attractive reform package. Reformers use public funding to advance their ideological agenda through charter schools, then whine that the administration is “stealing” from them. They hail themselves as civil rights heroes for breaking laws they happen not to like, but sue the district – or threaten to sue it - when they perceive the staff or other board members haven’t followed state laws to the letter. Reformers insist on detailed budget analyses for every purchase the district proposes, but neglect to apply the same due diligence to their proposals.

They accuse the district of using funds inefficiently, yet waste district resources probing for information to use against anyone who opposes them. They want to strengthen the whistleblower policy, hire an internal auditor and another attorney, presumably to gather more ammunition. They request district test scores that would require many staff-days to provide. These resources should be used to improve our schools.

The reformers’ constituents model the behavior of their elected officials. The parent-attorney who sued the district to change the civility policy so the board chair could be attacked complained because other public commenters took advantage of the new policy to criticize him, instead of focusing on the issue.

These antics are difficult to watch, but important to recognize, because they put the district at risk of another state accreditation agency warning.

The writer is referring to the fact the Collier County School District almost lost its accreditation in 2007 because it had a dysfunctional School Board.

Why is losing accreditation a concern? According to the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce at the time, in an article titled “School Accreditation: What It Means for Collier County:”

To be blunt, graduation from a school system that loses accreditation means the students’ high school diplomas are – in a word – worthless. And if those kinds of penalties aren’t enough, history has shown an entire community can be thrown into chaos by the loss of its schools’ accreditation. Students jam adjoining counties’ schools, entire families relocate to other parts of the country, property values plummet, federal and state financial support dries up."

My anonymous reader concluded her/his comments with a call to action. (S)he wrote:

The superintendent and senior school board members are doing their best to protect school personnel and resources, but they need our help. Tune into the school board meetings and write an email, or a letter to the editor, or give a public comment to support our public school staff. We are one school board seat away from taking experienced educators out of decision-making roles, and replacing them with members of this coalition. [emphasis added]

Fellow citizens, if you want a system that prepares young people to memorize facts and follow orders, and if you want a school system that’s run by taxpayers, elect more reformers. If you want a school system that teaches young people to think for themselves, prepares them for the best colleges and universities, and allows schools to be run by professional educators, re-elect the senior board members, or find new ones just like them.

I share the concerns so well-expressed by this anonymous writer. And I echo her/his call to action.

We must each do all we can to raise awareness of what’s going on right here in our community. There is so much at stake.

Please help by staying informed yourself, and urging your friends to subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox.



Please share this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

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