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James Madison Institute spins education nonsense, aided by StateImpact Florida

A report by the arch-conservative Florida think-tank, James Madison Institute (JMI), provides an asinine spin for the failed and largely discredited charter school/school choice “reform” movement. No one besides Jeb Bush fans would find much use in the Madison report, except that it gained plum attention from unreflective NPR/StateImpact Florida reporting.

Some classrooms serve education; others aim for profits ... by using your tax dollars.
Some classrooms serve education; others aim for profits ... by using your tax dollars.sxc.hu

This follows StateImpact Florida’s pattern of regurgitating half-baked pronouncements by corporate school proponents without a scintilla of critical assessment. Progressives and education activists should be aware that StateImpact Florida, a project partially sponsored by National Public Radio and local affiliates WUSF, WLRN, and WJCT, often makes no attempt to be balanced, analytical, or even cautionary. It amounts to serving as a mouthpiece for anti-public school, anti-teacher union, pro-corporate, pro-privatization advocates. A look at StateImpact Florida’s posts provides clear evidence.

The prime argument of anti-public school advocates like JMI is that Florida public schools are somehow governed by teacher unions and not by performance, like this jaundiced comment in the JMI report’s second paragraph:

… If you’re a union official, watching Florida students fighting to overcome a long classroom battle against mediocrity and failure, you go away grousing that the Governor didn’t run the plays you wanted him to run. Even though the students you supposedly root for just experienced remarkable success.

They decry a supposed “one-size-fits-all” approach in traditional public school teaching and insist that private educational options are the remedy to sub-par performance. The JMI report gives its privatization agenda all the credit in Florida’s improved test scores. Remarkably, it fails to mention that the measured improvements are overwhelmingly from the traditional public schools, in spite of the abysmally disappointing performance of charter schools, even reported by StateImpact Florida. At their best, charters simply match traditional public schools and at worst have amassed a stunning record of failure. Private schools receiving tax dollars for scholarships are not even required to administer the FCAT, Florida’s standardized testing mandate.

Further, they make no accounting of Florida’s FCAT obsessed testing regimen, neither acknowledging that testing in itself is a “one-size-fits-all” benchmark (hello?) or that improved test scores are poor measures of actual educational achievement. If preparedness for higher education was the criteria and education was really so improved, then how would they explain the need for colleges to provide so much remedial education to newly entering students? Standardized testing measures narrow parameters of knowledge and certain skills, but it has proven a poor indicator of educational achievement. Florida’s students have simply improved at testing.

The report’s author, JMI Resident Fellow James Mattox, is quoted by StateImpact Florida as saying that Florida’s education system needs to head

“in a direction toward customizing education so that the offerings that are available to each child are consistent with their needs, their interests, their learning styles.”

The uncritical reader would suppose that traditional public educators and teacher’s unions would not support “customizing education.” It’s a ridiculous suggestion. The only missing element for traditional public educators and teacher’s unions would be funding, something Florida’s public education system has been sorely lacking.

The Jeb Bush agenda has focused on siphoning funding from traditional public schools into charter schools and private virtual schools, typically managed by politically powerful for-profit corporations, and into private school voucher programs like the Florida Corporate Tax Credit Scholarships and the corruption riddled McKay Scholarships. While Bush’s “accountability” agenda targets traditional public schools, it manages to avert its gaze from the lack of accountability for the non-traditional gambits that it endorses so heartily. Could better funded public schools customize education in a more cost effective and performance focused manner than profit-oriented corporate schemes? Hey, let’s try that!

As if funding made no difference in the educational equation, JMI’s report has the audacity to say:

The need of the hour isn’t so much for Florida policymakers to “open up the checkbook” as it is to “open up the playbook” and expand creative learning options for students in a new wave of education reform. [p. 4]

If our public tax dollars were withheld from the privatization agenda, and we told them to find their own “checkbook,” that industry would die overnight, along with its profits. Why? Profits motivate them, not education.

JMI’s report is just plain silly. Readers should know that StateImpact Florida easily lets itself become a parrot of the corporate education profiteers and should not be regarded as an objective or even useful source of information on public education.

Shame on NPR and local affiliates WUSF, WLRN, and WJCT for supporting what appears too often to be a useless corporate propaganda tool, StateImpact Florida.

JMI’s report is just plain silly. Readers should know that StateImpact Florida easily lets itself become a parrot of the corporate education profiteers and should not be regarded as an objective or even useful source of information on public education.

Shame on NPR and local affiliates WUSF, WLRN, and WJCT for supporting what appears too often to be a useless corporate propaganda tool, StateImpact Florida.

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