Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dear Betsy, About That Status Quo

The Honorable (sic) Betsy Devos
United States Secretary of Education
Department of Education
Washington, D.C.

Dear Betsy,

     Welcome to the second of my letters. While you give much to discuss regarding the state of public education in the United States, you really stirred the pot when you accused your detractors and dismissed the protesters in Denver as 'defenders of the status quo.'

     While you remain unaware of much that has taken place in education over the last twenty years, (I would have said ignorant but that word has taken on pejorative tones; I want this to be a respectful communication,) surely you are aware that the status quo is not the educational system of the 1950s, where parents sent their children to public schools, parochial  schools (that is, Catholic schools), or private schools to which they paid the entire tuition.

     By the way, Betsy, as we get rolling, notice that with those three options parents have always had a choice and a free market of sorts has always existed. In fact, without government vouchers, sending a child for all except the very wealthy involved a sacrifice on the parents' part and schools had to keep tuition affordable. That free market was working, including the viable option of sending children to the local public school.

     But the status quo of 1957 is not the status quo of 2017. Much has changed. None of your critics are defending the status quo because the marketplace has added government-subsidized options (emphasis mine). Indeed, as an aside, it is a surprise to me that such a free-market advocate as yourself has one policy in mind: expand government subsidies via a federal voucher program funded by a diversion of Title 1 dollars (again, emphasis mine).

    Let's examine the status quo in Florida, whereby parents can access the following education options:

  1. One of over 652 charter schools according to the Florida Department of Education ( That was the 2015 - 2016 school year and the number grows annually.
  2. Florida Virtual School, an online option for students, including 62 district franchises associated with FLVS.
  3. Other virtual schools that are allowed by Florida law to begin operating in the state. (BTW, as an assist to virtual models of education, the legislature requires high school students to take at least one credit-bearing course via an online option.)
  4. John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities. This is a voucher program that gives parents up to $20,000 to enroll their child in a private school that meets their child's needs.
  5. Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income families. These are the ones you tout, the children you claim deserve the same option as children from wealthy families to attend quality schools. In the school year 2014 -2015, parents could get a voucher worth $5,272. For comparison, one such quality private school in my city (Bolles School) has annual tuition of $24,000 for a middle-school aged child. Providence School for the same age is $11, 782. Episcopal High School charges a tuition of $22,500 for a middle-school child.
  6. Personal Learning Scholarship Account Program for children with specified, severe disabilities. An educational savings account-type program, it's worth $10,000 a year and parents can use the money for diagnostic and support services.
  7. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Students in public schools labeled as 'failing' may transfer to another public school.
  8. Private schools.
  9. Home Schooling.
  10. Traditional Public Schools, including magnet programs, choice programs, vocational programs, and in high school, AICE (Cambridge) diploma, IB diploma, and dual enrollment programs.

    This is the status quo, Betsy, and no defender/advocate for public education, including your critics, is defending it.

     There isn't sufficient space in this post to critique the many options on this list and explain why they should not be subsidized with taxpayer dollars. However, the list is sufficient to demonstrate that your dismissal of public school advocates is wrong, dead wrong. They criticize and work to eliminate this status quo.

     You don't like this status quo, either. You really don't like charter schools and they have figured that out. It really isn't a problem for them; eventually, they will convert to voucher schools. You want to eliminate #10, traditional public schools and for the most unknowing of reasons: you entertain a stereotype of teachers that is false. Like the Israelites of old, though, you worship this golden calf in the desert because you believe it will bring investors the meager gold that poor and middle-class families have left after 25 years of a diverging economy that is eliminating the middle-class.

     You are Aaron, asking for the gold to build this idol of a privatized school system funded by vouchers.

      You cry that poor children deserve the same quality schools that wealthy children can afford.

      You push taxpayer-funded subsidies to give those children that opportunity because their parents cannot afford it.

      You weep in front of your idol and call upon others to do as you say.

      Because low-income parents cannot afford the tuition. Because they are low-income.

     Has it never occurred to you, wealthy Amway billionaire, investor and owner of many business, that you could solve that problem yourself without needing the government? The solution is simple.

     Pay your workers a living wage, one that will sustain their families, without the need for government subsidies. Then support laws that force all employers to do the same.

     Really, Betsy, it's the least you could do ... if you really care about the children.

Very truly yours,

Gregory Sampson

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Last week the Florida Department of Education decided to issue guidance to district superintendents about the section of the omnibus HB 7069 that recently took effect that mandated at least 20 minutes of unstructured, free play for elementary age children in traditional public schools.

Context is everything, as even the Department would acknowledge since it puts emphasis on testing, every year, the ability of Florida's school children to decipher context clues on the FSA reading exam.

It is context that guides my reaction.

Here is the salient paragraph: The logistics of implementing the recess requirement will be determined by each local school district. This includes, but is not limited to, the development of master schedules, designation of spaces that will be utilized for recess and establishing weather guidelines to ensure student safety. This law does not specify the location where recess must be provided. The recess minutes could be provided indoors or outdoors as determined by local school district and/or individual school leadership

The memo also specifies that recess is "supervised, safe, and unstructured free play." Notice in the above paragraph how it suggests (encourages? requires?) districts to develop policies and rules for recess.

My initial reaction to reading the Herald Tribune posting was a wondering why we don't take the common sense route that the adults running elementary schools have the common sense to know when it would not be appropriate to take children outside for recess. Why doesn't the Florida Department of Education trust the judgment of principals and teachers?

Why do rules and procedures have to be established? Take the children outside and let them play unless it is raining or too hot.

Duh ...

That led to wondering why the Department made the statement that recess does not have to be outside. Most elementary schools are not set up with play areas to allow children to exercise that unstructured component of the law's requirement. What would supervised, safe, and unstructured play look like inside a classroom?

On to the suspicion that what the Department was doing was to tell superintendents to ignore the law if they wanted. Context is everything. Under what context is the Department issuing this memo?

But a second reading and a scrutiny of the source document suggests I was overreacting.

I await your thoughts (although I'll stick by my statement that we really don't need advice from the department about when it is inappropriate to go outside. Our teachers and principals are smart enough to figure that out without guidance, policies, and rules.)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Philanthrocapitalist

Philanthropy: altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement, usually manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons, by endowment of institutions of learning and hospitals, and by generosity to other socially useful purposes.

     (altruistic: unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others.)

--Definitions from

Philanthrocapitalism: Philanthropy that is marked by a belief that charitable work should be done according to business practices, is best performed by a business, and that the donor should control the policies and decisions of the philanthropic object, namely, the educational institutions, hospitals, and other relief organizations.

A century ago, the great industrialists (Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, and others) established foundations for their philanthropy. They did not try to choose the recipients for their largesse or direct the distribution of funds; they hired experts in the areas of their concern who best knew the needs and how to meet the needs.

In our time, we have seen the rise of the philanthrocapitalist. The great industrialists (Gates, Zuckerburg, Jobs (via his widow), and others) have established foundations for their philanthropy, but insist upon maintaining control of their gifts and demanding control of the recipients through conditions imposed upon the gifts. They believe in the free market as the ideal environment for all charitable endeavors: education, health care, and social welfare. Where the profit motive is absent, they introduce it. They raise a banner of individualism and choice, maintaining that those in need are consumers who should make the choice, but by the direction of their efforts, they often leave those in need with few choices.

The movers and shakers of our burg have chosen the philanthrocapitalist model through which to benefit our community. While the likes of Chartrand, Weaver, and others do not have the billions of the Silicon Valley tycoons, they do have enough wealth to wield a large influence over the city of Jacksonville, Florida and to impose conditions on their gifts that must be met or they will take their marbles and go home.

How else to interpret the letter that Gary Chartrand penned through the Quality Education for All board and was joined by the chair, Wayne Weaver (original Jaguars owner), Lawrence Dubow, Cindy Edelman, Matt Rapp, and David Stein?

“If you are not willing to invest in those programs that have proven successful, we must consider that this bond has been broken and we will have no choice but to step back our part of this arrangement until a new understanding can be established.”

What distinguishes the philanthrocapitalist from the philanthropist is the insistence upon dictating policy and program despite their lack of expertise. Of the individuals named, only one, Cindy Edelman, has any actual teaching experience and that was 12 years at The Bolles School, an elite, private school on the Southside. I wonder how well Ms. Edelman would fare if she was teaching art at a public school, say Highlands Middle, Northwestern Middle, or Westside High? I wonder if she truly understands the issues and challenges of our public schools.

But they know best and they will dictate to the school board what must be done if they will keep donating and, to make their point, they have held up their five million dollar check.

This is philanthrocapitalism, charitable giving with an agenda, and an unwillingness to look at new circumstances.

This is philanthrocapitalism, the belief that expertise in one area of life makes the donor an expert in all areas of life, unwilling to trust, even condemning, those who have spent their lives in arenas like education.

This is philanthrocapitalism, the belief that struggling, impoverished families in the Northwest corridor should share the values, opinions, and behaviors that mark the wealthy and privileged. And if they don't, they are judged and deemed wanting.

I can imagine them pledging $50 million to improve the neighborhoods along Moncrief Road, but wait, the young men let their pants sag, never mind.

(Was that too sarcastic?)

Duval County Public Schools (Jacksonville, FL) is facing a triple whammy this year: Florida law that does not allow them to raise property tax rates, HB 7069 that is diverting property taxes from the needed maintenance of public schools to the capital needs of charter schools, and a 12 million dollar deficit left by the golden boy, now running Detroit Community Schools, that the QEA board would not want mentioned.

The philanthropist would say, "Tough year. Let me help." These philanthrocapitalists say, "Don't talk to us about your problems. You have to chip in or else." Students say, "How come there's no toilet paper in the restroom?"

Sorry, kid, we have no money. Ask Wayne, Gary, Cindy, Matt, and David.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Twump-Tweet

Yes, it's time to coin a new word for our troubled, challenging, but very interesting times.

You may not like the current president, but face it, he has invented a new sub-genre for the written word: the Twump-tweet.

It has its own literary structure, which was analyzed and identified over a year ago: usually three sentences or phrases, sometimes only two, the twump-tweet features a statement of (dubious) fact, a terse explanation, then a one or two word ejaculation of judgment.

Slate gives it a run:

Moreover, a simple Google search will turn up dozens of templates where you can compose your own fake twump-tweet.

Here are some actual twump-tweets:

  • Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people, but their low rated show is dominated by their NBC bosses. Too bad!
  • Fake News CNN is looking at big management changes now that they got caught falsely pushing their phony Russian stories. Ratings way down!
  • I've helped pass and signed 38 Legislative Bills, mostly with no Democratic support, and gotten rid of massive amounts of regulations. Nice!
  • I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
  • The Fake News Media has never been so wrong or so dirty. Purposely incorrect stories and phony sources to meet their agenda of hate. Sad!

  • I could go on, but you get the idea. Frankly, I can stomach only so much scrolling through Trump's twitter feed.

    However, 'a door once opened can be walked through in both directions.'

    It's time to out-tweet the Trumpster. Let's get busy. We could go for parody:

    • Meeting with Putin at the G20 to deliver the mortgage payment on my properties. Relief!
    • Gates et al. say robot workers will be ready in 24 months. No need for actual humans, no need for health care. Tax relief for billionaires.
    • Fake news says I bragged about sexual assault. Oops, that was real news.
    But the direct approach will be more effective:

    • Afghan schoolgirls' robotics team denied entry to US for world competition. Why does this insecure Prez fear them? Sad.
    • Minion-coconspirator Devos hires Wall Street exec to manage student loan portfolio. Manage? Rather, collect through any means possible. Criminal.
    • Devos rips Title 1 funds away from schools to line the pockets of her billionaire friends. Corruption extraordinaire.
    • Trump lashes out at media, conducts feud. Hatfield and McCoys weren't this bad. Pathetic.
    • Bush 43 sought to restore honor to the office. Obama upheld same. But now? Pig trough.
    You get the idea. Let's get trending. :)

    Postscript: the twump-tweet. I am rolling the r into a w a la Baba Wawa, the brilliant Gilda Radner impression we watched in the 70s on Saturday Night. Trust me, the alliteration works.