Florida is a bellwether state. What happens to schools there will move to other states in one form or another.
I would like to share a personal story of how I met school choice as a teacher in Florida and how it helped cement in me the desire to advocate for a public school system that denies no child the right to an education.
The State of Florida is in trouble when it comes to democratic public schools and its children. Governor-elect DeSantis appears to be a Jeb Bush, Betsy DeVos groomed ideologue. His governorship is a school privatization victory.
There will be more public school closures and an increase of second rate flimsy charters for the poor, with tax credits to exclusive private school attendance for the wealthy.
The state school board DeSantis chose is loaded with individuals who adore school privatization. Peter Greene gives a thorough description of the chosen individuals who will be overseeing Florida’s schools. There are no public school supporters, no one from the PTA, no students, or teachers.
Warren Hudson is one of the state board members. He is President of Lake Highland Preparatory School. Why does a president of a private school get authority over public schools? It makes no sense if we are talking about public school improvement. Private schools face few of the problems found in public schools.
I don’t know Mr. Hudson, but he oversees an elite group of students. Lake Highland Prep can pick and choose who will attend the school.
Years ago, while living in Central Florida, I applied for a job and received an offer to teach at Lake Highland Prep. It was an intriguing position. I was to work with individuals and small groups of students with learning disabilities in a lovely surrounding with good resources.
I seriously considered the job, but declined the position partly because it was a long commute and my child attended a public school, which she loved. They had graciously offered partial tuition for her to attend Lake Highland as part of the hiring package.
But I was especially uncomfortable with one of the last things I was told about the position. I was informed that if my students could not overcome their disabilities and improve their grades, I was to let the administrators know. I assumed that meant the students would be dismissed from the school. Elite private schools have an image. They make their profit by advertising success, and there is no room for failure.
To Lake Highland’s credit, they were at that time trying to address the needs of students with learning disabilities, the purpose of the position I was being offered.
But the idea of having to turn in a student who did not make progress fast enough did not set well with me. I’d worked mostly in public schools. Public school teachers do not give up on their students. Or at least they shouldn’t, not if they are good teachers working in good public schools.
Some public schools have been corrupted by reform and may no longer be following what a good public school should do. And teachers might be evaluated unfairly for the students with academic and behavioral problems in their classroom.
But as challenging as some students might be, teachers know they cannot dismiss students from a public school, unless the student presents a danger.
Also, there’s no greater joy for a teacher than to watch students overcome academic and behavioral difficulties!
Any tax supported public school should serve all children! I think some in this country forget what a grand commitment this is to our next generation.
Public schools are criticized as failed, and private schools and even charters are hailed as success stories, ignoring the fact that these schools are selective. Students who don’t measure up can be rejected from the school or not accepted in the first place. We call it “creaming.”
Lake Highland Preparatory School, like many private schools, was started during the racial integration of Orlando’s public school system. Choice enthusiasts often say poor children should have the same opportunity as wealthy children. Will we see these elite schools taking in massive numbers of students with vouchers from poor neighborhoods? Will they be recruiting voucher students with severe behavioral problems?
No. Those students will attend charter schools.
Private schools are elitist, overrated, and will not accept anyone from just any neighborhood. We should not be funding these schools or any schools that are not held accountable with our tax dollars.
And we should not give private school administrators authority over our public schools, unless they are sincere in keeping public schools public and welcoming to all children.
Sue Bursztynski says
We have this dreadful issue of funding private schools here too – it’s about votes. I agree, they should not be funded with the tax dollars of parents who could never afford to send their children there,
And your story about the school kicking out kids who weren’t improving doesn’t surprise me at all. They kick out kids who are likely to embarrass them with low Year 12 results too. And a friend of mine who scraped together money to send her son to a private school for help with his reading difficulties told me that he was asked to leave when it was clear that he was not improving.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks, Sue. How sad for that child, especially since sometimes kids suddenly improve or have a growth spurt!
John Mountford says
As ever, Nancy, I found so much of interest in your latest posting. Your description of events there, once more, presented the opportunity to compare US and UK developments in the troubled domain of state education. You will be aware of our proclivity for frequently mimicking what happens there. Sadly, we often choose the less wholesome elements of American policy to replicate when there is much we would be better served to copy. However, that being the nature of the beast, I was particularly struck by your comment about your public schools, what we refer to here as state schools.
“Some public schools have been corrupted by reform and may no longer be following what a good public school should do. And teachers might be evaluated unfairly for the students with academic and behavioral problems in their classroom.”
You are so right. It is a corruption of the values of decency, fair play and transparency upon which any state sponsored system of education should surely be founded. The drive to measure our schools by outcome in tests of the most narrow and restrictive of achievements seems unrelenting. It is similarly destructive of teachers’ professionalism and students’ wellbeing here as it seems to be there in the US. We all have need leaders in education reform who can think for themselves about the best that can be achieved for children and young people of all abilities, rather than slaves to commercialism driven increasingly by the demands of technology that should be being developed only for the good of the people.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks, John. And the sad thing is testing doesn’t really serve the purpose of helping the teacher better understand the child! Data collection is a concern here.
Roy Turrentine says
Good article.. I have cousins who taught for most of the 60s through the present day in Polk County. They are not enamoured of the right wing takeover there.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks, Roy. I know a lot of people in Florida who share that sentiment.
These so-called ” schools of choice ” manipulate their stats, launder tax money to pay themselves, and they are growing. My Daughter is at risk of getting kicked out of a newly changed charter here, regardless of the fact that it would uproot her and take her away from the only school she has known. They don’t care. They are money driven, legacy driven. I’ve gone head to head with two different charter schools over my autistic son. But, what do you expect from a state that requires the McCarthy era slogan ” in God we trust ” to be displayed by all schools?
( Yes, it is officially state law- purportedly a response to dead students after the MAD massacre – because, well, the geniuses in Tallahassee didn’t want to politicize the incident. . Go figure that one out )