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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A few reasons to drop education funding law suits, we will need the money for public assistance and jail

Some concerned citizen groups and prominent citizens are suing the state of Florida to have the legislature fulfill its constitutional duty to properly fund education. I feel their frustration, and - in spirit - I am with them; but at the same time, let me say "Please, please drop the lawsuit - just in case you win". There is no reason for us to waste more of our money on public education and it is with great sadness I say 'waste'. Let us save it, instead, to spend on things we are really going to need more more public assistance programs and prisons.

We could double or even triple the amount of money we spend on education. We could go from 'worst to first' in spending. We could turn our schools into high-tech palaces and give every child a top of the line laptop, too. We could double the salaries of our teachers and put Wal-Marts in the schools, full of supplies - and not one bit of it would make a difference as long as we kept doing things the same way we are doing them now.

Where money (or lack thereof) is a problem, it pales in comparison to the real problem, and that’s what education has been transformed into over the last decade. Somehow, up became down; black became white; left became right and it became allright to jump on the furniture - basically, none of what we’re doing makes sense anymore. Take the F-CAT for instance: we have a high-stakes test that drives our curriculum. All through time, tests were supposed to be a component of education, not the whole "kit and kaboodle" - and that’s what the F-CAT has become.

Then there is our curriculum. We have a "one-size-fits-all" curriculum, despite the fact that kids come in many different sizes (and by sizes, I mean they come with a wide variety of desires, interests, and abilities). We have all but eliminated the arts, trades and skills as we force kids into remedial academics so they can be ready for a post-secondary education - an education many do not want and for which they will not be prepared. Friends, if they are in remedial academics...well, maybe there is a better road they can travel. Is it any stretch of the imagination to think that if we make school unbearable or irrelevant to kids, then they won’t do well - or worse, that they will drop out?

Our legislation has also ratcheted up the graduation requirements, which might sound good on paper, but this has had the unintended consequence of "dumbing-down" education. Rigor is destroyed as teachers are put in the impossible position of either failing a kid who doesn’t have the skills they need (because they didn’t have a firm foundation to start with), or pushing them along. Pushing kids along has become standard else do you explain that over half our kids get to high school and aren't able to read or do math on grade level (according to the F-CAT, that is)? It’s become nearly impossible, for numerous reasons, to fail a student; but perhaps chief among those reasons is that teachers are threatened with loss of merit pay - or even their jobs - if they do so. "Well, you must not be a good teacher if you fail so many [or any] kids", they are told, with a wink and a nod.

It’s not as if teachers can teach like they used to, anyway; many have their classrooms hijacked by an unruly kid or two. "Ignore behavior" has become the new mantra. Referrals aren’t always processed, and true consequences are rarely given when teachers dare to write children up. If a kid doesn’t respond to a teacher's "teacher voice" or "teacher look" and doesn’t care about what meager rewards (or consequences) a teacher has for them, then there has to be some back-up. Many of today’s schools have no back-up, and the teacher is forced to either risk their job or pay, or endure a toxic learning environment. Just like not everybody is going to go to college, despite the state's insistence that they all can, some kids aren’t suited for a regular teaching environment -and at some point, as contrary as we might feel about it, we should cut a few out to save the many. "No child left behind" should be changed to "we are leaving about five to ten percent behind until they learn how to behave". Though, if we had started with real consequences at school at an early age, that number could have been only one to two percent now.

Another reason not to fund education is that there is already way too much pressure on teachers. Teachers have become the scapegoats for the woes in education - can you imagine how bad it would be if we doubled the budget? There would be the occasional teacher lynching accompanying the weekly mass firings when teachers couldn’t meet what ever arbitrary number was in vogue. Teachers have all the responsibility but none of the authority to teach our state's children. They can’t discipline or fail kids, and they are put on schedules and given curriculums that rob them of creativity and initiative and practically ensure a new topic must be covered before an old topic is mastered. No thank you. I would rather keep my paycheck-to-paycheck existence than be put in that position.

It doesn’t matter to me that since 2001, only 37% of students taking the 10th-grade FCAT read on grade level. Florida ranks 47th in the nation in high school graduation rates with only 57.5% of the classes between 1996 and 2006 earning regular diplomas, that from 1997 to 2006, the white-black achievement gap among 10th-graders grew from 11% to 18%, and, that unsurprisingly, our state ranks 50th in total public education spending when compared to in-state wealth (statistics taken from None of that will change unless we change the way we do things. If we keep doing things the way we are then even if we threw an unlimited amount of money at education it will not improve.

I believe that education is woefully under funded. I believe that the citizens of Florida should be embarrassed that we value our children so little that we have allowed our leaders to fund education at such a meager level - we’re 50th out of 50, for goodness' sake. I also believe there is no greater duty than for the present generation to prepare the next. Furthermore it says it right in the Florida constitution that the paramount duty of the legislation is “to provide and fund a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools”. I also believe this is a paramount duty that has been ignored for quite some time.

Because the state of Florida has been shirking its duties for quite some time, some citizens groups of Florida (Citizens for Strong Schools and Fund education and other prominent citizens have become angry enough to take the state government to court in order to get them to do what they should have been doing all along. While I find this very admirable, I also believe they are wasting their time and I believe if they won it would just mean we were wasting more money. Finally I believe we would be better off saving our money for jails and public assistance, because we’re still going to need plenty of money for those things if we keep doing things the same way.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

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