So you will probably recall that some of Florida's educational leaders have lost their damned minds, having decided that the full force of districts and state powers must be brought to bear in order to beat a bunch of nine-year-old children into compliance. In some school districts, administrators had concluded that third grade children who opted out of the Big Standardized Test could not be promoted, not based on their report cards, and not based on alternative assessments like portfolios.
The case ended up in court when parents sought relief from their children's non-promotion. The details that emerged there were not pretty. Orange County allowed students to advance based on their portfolios-- just not this one particular child. Many districts played Gotcha by not informing children they had failed third grade until the very end of the school year, with no prior notice of deficiency and no attempt to put a remediation plan in place. And it also became clear that when the state wasn't hedging and hemming and hawing, it was just plain giving districts advice contrary to the actual laws of Florida. All of this, mind you, while other counties in Florida had no trouble reading, understanding, and following the law. Meanwhile, to add broader insults to the whole business, the state introduced the contention that report cards are meaningless.
You might think that the finding by Judge Karen Gievers would put the writing on the wall large enough for even the dimmest superintendent or state bureaucrat to read. But a couple of weeks ago, I wrote this:
Of course, we're not done with this yet. The state will appeal, because God forbid they let this little nine-year-old scofflaws slip through their fingers. But if they have a leg to stand on, I can't see where it is. Not that they won't try. This is Pam Stewart and the Florida Department of Education-- if they can pursue a ten year old boy on his death bed, the optics of yanking a bunch of fourth graders out of class to throw them back in a third grade classroom won't deter them. But on a planet with even a remote simulation of justice, the state will continue to lose this fight.
Sad to say, since the judge issued her public spanking, Florida officials have lived up to my low opinion of them.
School districts had defended themselves throughout the run-up to the case by declaring that their hands were tied, they were just following the law, and gosh they couldn't do anything about it because that darn state, donchaknow. And then, when the judge spoke, effectively untying their hands, not only did the state DOE appeal (no surprise there) but Orange, Seminole, Broward, and Hernando Counties also appealed the ruling. Parent activist Jinia Parker responded in an open letter
I will not accept “our hands are tied” ever again. Throughout history, “I was following orders” has been the excuse of cowards and those who lack honor.
I’m not asking for anything extraordinary. I am asking that school boards in Florida do the right thing.
In Hernando County, three of the children involved in the case waited for the ruling before reporting to their magnet school. Once it was established that they would enter fourth grade, they reported to school, where the principal met them to tell them that they no longer had seats at that school. Again, a punitive and just plain mean choice by the district, delivered in the nastiest way possible-- "No," some administrator must have said, "No letter. No phone call. Let the little sonsabitches show up all excited about starting the new year and then stick it to them. That'll teach 'em to mess with us."
As a Tampa Bay Times editorial put it, "Reason flew the coop in Hernando County, to be replaced by cruelty."
And clearly something has taken the place of reason for some Florida school leaders, who are bound and determined that nine-year-olds will be beaten into submission.
This is the kind of spectacle you get when you insist on enforcing a stupid law, and the law that says students must pass the Big Standardized Test in order to move on to fourth grade is a deeply stupid law, without a shred of science to back it up. But this is the hill on which the state has decided to fight the opt out battle, hoping that a battery of nuisance motions and legions of taxpayer-financed lawyers will somehow beat these children and their families down so that finally the Supreme Test Gods can receive their proper homage.
It's stupid not only because it's wrong (though lord knows that's reason enough) but because it's stupid politics and stupid optics. Lots and lots of people are busy demonstrating on the public stage that they are spectacularly unfit for their jobs. Let's hope that before this is all done, many of them are looking for work. In the meantime, I hope they find more and more unruly parents bothering their offices.
And if you want to help, follow this link to contribute to the legal fund. Because while the state and school districts can just keep wasting mountains of taxpayer money on this fiasco, the parents enjoy no such luxury.