War upon war upon the earth, and not only those in which the United States has involved itself.
Disease flourishes among us. We flatten the curve while we curse its name because we don’t have an answer: no proven treatment, no vaccine, no end. All we can do is to mitigate the rate of infection so as to give our health care systems the ability to deal with the sick.
Famine? Locust storms unprecedented since the days of DDT afflict Africa. Here in America, our slaughterhouses (usually going by the moniker “meatpacking plant”) are closing as the virus sickens many of their workers and the rest refuse to show up.
Death is close behind. Many of us check the websites from Johns Hopkins and others that track the progress of Covid-19, confirmed cases, and deaths.
Are the four horsemen loose upon the Earth? Personally, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is not given to an end-times view of the pandemic. Let’s leave the dystopian fantasy end-of-the-world stories to Hollywood.
But we can still have some fun in identifying the horsemen of the education apocalypse.
Conquest, the white horse, whose rider holds a bow, wears a crown, and rides as a conqueror bent upon conquest
That would be Jeb Bush, Florida’s governor from 1999 – 2007. He originated the idea of giving schools a single letter grade to indicate their quality and performance that was based only upon the percentage of students passing state exams. He established foundations to push the school grading practice to other states. While the practice remains controversial–without evidence to support its validity–it has spread to 15 other states.
He proposed a voucher plan whereby school tax dollars, those paid by the public through sales taxes and local property taxes, would be diverted to private schools, even those run by religious institutions. The original 2005 law was declared unconstitutional because it violated the Florida constitution that required a uniform [GOT emphasis] system of public education. Not to be deterred, through his foundations, Bush kept at it and a new voucher bill was passed in 2019.
Complete privatization is the goal. The coronavirus pandemic is only his latest opportunity to advocate for the shutdown of traditional public schools, “It’s time to learn the lessons from these heroic efforts and plan for a future in which public education can continue without access to classrooms — not just because of a pandemic but because that’s the future of learning.” (Source: May 3, 2020 guest column in the Washington Post.)
“Longer term, all K-12 schools need to adapt to distance learning. Already, one-third of college students take courses online. The $200 billion-plus market for corporate learning is exploding with content libraries, assessment tools, workflow learning and “micro-learning.” (ibid.)
Conquest. Currently the chair of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (which he founded), Jeb Bush now sees no need for schools to have a physical location. He does note the inequity of digital learning, the challenge in providing required-by-law services to students with special needs or are English-language learners; yet that does not slow him down as he rides over the landscape seeking the privatization of all schools.
Full details of all that this white horse has done and, more importantly, what he hasn’t done even with his ideas like third-grade retention because of low-reading scores, may be found in this Answer Sheet column by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post.
Bent upon conquest, he sees that his hour has come.
War, the fiery red horse, who wields a great sword and has power to take peace from the Earth
Richard Corcoran, current Education Commissioner of Florida, declared war on Florida’s public schools long ago. Long connected to ALEC, the Koch Brothers front for pushing privatization and other destructive legislation for the rights and lives of workers, the Commissioner’s greatest legislative triumph came two years ago when he single-handedly discarded a carefully crafted education bill by both chambers of the Florida legislature and substituted his version.
Many bills died that year, including the former Speaker’s cherished Schools of Hope initiative, an attempt to impose charter schools from a very small list of favored vendors on neighborhoods whose schools are deemed failing. But Corcoran was not to be denied. On the eve of the final day of the legislative session, he took the compromise bill, did a strike-all amendment (a legislative maneuver that takes a bill that passed out of committee and replaces all the language with entirely new text and often legislative intent), and put in place everything he wanted including Schools of Hope and other public school harming provisions.
Not content to be termed out of office, Corcoran is now the state’s Education Commissioner who has stated that his goal is to cut public school enrollment by two-thirds in the next few years. He is bold in his praise for choice, ignoring the fact that choice is the choice of the charter and private schools, not that of parents.
He has threatened to take over entire school districts because they do not bend to his will. Given a choice, if the district does not make the choice he wants and turn their schools over to charter operators, he will make war upon them.
Waging his war, he sees this time as a strategic opportunity by any means possible, such as increasing the capacity of the state-run virtual school to be able to serve every student in Florida.
Famine, the black horse, whose rider holds a set of scales amid cries of a day’s wages for a meager meal
One of the more devious ways to starve public schools is Step Up for Students, the not-for-profit tax dodge that began as a way for Jeb Bush to evade the court decision that declared his voucher program unconstitutional.
If the children never receive the bread, are we starving them when we give it to others? That is the reasoning behind the dodge. If the state never receives the tax dollars because it grants a tax credit to corporate donations to this group, does that count as a diversion of tax dollars? No, the reasoning goes, because the state never touched the money it was due.
The overall problem, as numerous people have noted again and again, is that the state government does not increase the funding nearly enough to account for the additional parties to whom it distributes the FTE budget. Under the current expansion of recipients, every small church school holding class in their basement, parochial schools, charter schools, and more are lining up for funding.
But the way the legislature plays it, it’s a zero sum game. Every dollar given to a ‘choice’ option is one less dollar for public schools. Public schools are slowly being starved, which is highly ironic during these days of pandemic closure when it is the public schools feeding children, not the charters, many of whom directed their parents to drive down the street to the public school to get the free lunches and snacks being provided.
Death, the pale horse, with the power to kill by sword, famine, and plague, as well as the wild beasts of the earth
There are many who would qualify as the rider of the pale horse. On the national scale, there is Betsy Devos who might easily qualify as the educational antichrist of our time. Her hijacking of CARES act relief money, meant for all schools, for her pet cause of private school vouchers, is typical and troubling. Her rewriting of rules meant to protect victims of sexual assault chills the blood. Her continuing, coercive attempts to collect on student loans when the courts have told her to stop … yes, Betsy brings death and Hades rides in her train.
But this is a Florida-focused piece. There are still many candidates for the rider of the pale horse, indeed, the three mentioned above could easily be in this saddle. But today GOT will let the honor go to Erika Donalds, who has pushed death to public schools in the guise of choice since her days of serving as an elected board member of a school district.
Her history has long been recorded:
“My time on the School Board really led me to conclude that the best prescription for school reform is the free market,” said Donalds, who listed her ideal objective as finding a way to get education scholarship accounts to more all students. She acknowledged that some leaders of the “monopolistic” school district model might argue the idea of funding children’s education wherever they find the best opportunity for them would spread funds too thin, making it harder to plan and diminishing children’s education.
From the Tampa Bay Times: Donalds has some skin in the game. She also runs the Optima Foundation, which helps charter school startup organizations to open their schools. And her husband, Rep. Byron Donalds, chairs the state House PreK-12 Quality committee, which hears legislation on some of the same issues she’s advocating.
Because why kill a public institution of 200 years standing if you’re not going to get paid for it? Influence helps.
She’s not the only one. Richard Corcoran’s wife runs charter schools. Manny Diaz, Republican state senator from Miami, works for a charter organization. He exploited his political power to get his employer, Academica (Doral charter schools) onto the Schools of Hope list when it first was excluded. There are many, many others.
They have one wish and that is death to public schools.
Florida, take note. These horsemen are riding and it will take more than a pandemic to defeat them.
It will take your votes. It will depend upon a change of power in Tallahassee.
Be a #publicedvoter. Vote them out, all of them. Let’s start afresh with a government that responds to the needs of its people.