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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Has Jacksonville lost faith in its public schools?

More Duval County residents think school is important; that’s a good thing. More Duval County residents have lost confidence in public schools; that’s a bad thing. More Duval County residents say they don’t want to pay any more towards our schools; that’s an understandable thing, especialy in light of the hundred plus million the district had been squirling away for a rainy day. By the way it has been raing for a couple yers now.

I get it. The truth is we have some amazing schools and not just the nationally acclaimed magnet schools but neighborhood schools as well. Then even at our quote, unquote, struggling schools, there are great things going on. Teachers showing up with their sleeves rolled up dedicated to their students but despite all of that our district as a whole puts out a mediocre product. Quite frankly I don’t want to pay any more either and I am in the schools and see the needs going unmet. Despite this I completely understand how many of my neighbors feel. I get it.

Somewhere along the way, the Duval County Public School system lost its way. Appearing to do well and the f-cat replaced doing what is right and the mission of schools, which should be to prepare our children to be productive citizens with whatever they choose to do when they finish; whether they decide to continue their education or enter the workforce.

For some reason disciplining kids became passé to do. Despite the districts insistence that behavior is better, what’s really better is teacher’s ability to ignore bad behavior and endure toxic learning environments. We ignore so much stuff that would have gotten me suspended 25 years ago when I walked the same halls as a student that I now do as a teacher. There are too many battles to fight them all. It’s exhausting.

The district then tries to inflate its numbers by doing accounting tricks. We put advanced programs in all the high schools (and why do we have advanced magnet high schools if we can get the programs anywhere) and have more and more kids take advanced placement classes. Kids don’t have to pass an A.P. class to help a schools grade; they just have to take the test.

Then we stopped failing kids. A colleague commented the other day; if you come to class you really have to work hard to fail my class. We go through such lengths to make sure these kids get by, not learn mind you but get by and if it wasn’t for the gentlemen’s C pushing a fifth of the kids through we would have a log jam at certain grades.

Not that teachers aren’t subtlety cajoled into passing kids all the time either; no more than ten percent Ds and Fs we are told in memos and at meetings and if you do your evaluations, potential merit pay (which is a joke here in the county) and jobs may hang in the balance. Though with learning recovery it practically doesn’t matter what a kid does in class anyways. They could not show up or worse show up do nothing but disrupt the class everyday and still be eligible for it. In my day there was no makeup unless you had an excused absence and then after so many days that didn’t matter. Now nothing matters as every kid is eligible regardless of the reason.

At some point those in the ivory tower at 1701 prudential drive became enamored with the successes at Stanton and Paxon and thought, hey let’s do that everywhere, accept everywhere didn’t have the same kids or the ability to kick children out who didn’t cut the mustard with either their academics or behavior.

Then at some point we decided every kid was going to go to college regardless of desire and aptitude. So we destroyed the skill and trade based programs and put everyone into a one size fits all curriculum. The greatest generation that saved us from the Nazi hoard was made up of carpenters, plumbers and tradesmen of all types, but suddenly those jobs are devalued.

Teaching to the test became all we did and still do. Benchmarks, PMAs, and a whole host of other tests replaced actual critical thinking and learning skills as we created a generation that can regurgitate answers for a test but do little else. We make school miserable for kids and then wonder why they don't do well.

Finally when did teachers go from valued, collaborative, colleagues, to dime a dozen cogs easily replaced, cajoled and intimidated by the district if they do’t subvert to its will. Teaching today has little to do with teaching. Instead we have become statisticians forced to create mountainous data notebooks which give little more than what a teacher can learn by working with a student for a few days. We spend so much time getting our agendas and word wall right that we have little time for actually teaching. Sir that two page lesson plan that I spent two hours creating is not for me or my children’s benefit. No it’s for the administrators so they can justify their positions by having something to check.

Speak up and say goodbye to your room or the class you want to teach. Question and see your evaluation suffer. Teachers are demoralized for several different reasons but chief among those has to be they see the promise our schools have and how far away we have moved away from it.

It’s no wonder the community lost faith because so many teachers have too. It’s also no wonder the community said we don’t want to chip in anymore. Though the crazy thing about faith is if it is important enough and most of us believe our education system is important, teachers show up day in and day out even thought they know they are fighting a losing battle, then schools can get the faith back, they just have to start doing the right things.

We have to have rigorous classes. Kids can’t be pushed through without the skills they need and with us hoping they will somehow catch up. We should also ditch the current learning recovery model completely, it might be good for the districts stats but it’s bad for education. If a kid acts up or skips all the time they should not be rewarded with multiple bites at the apple. Then for those kids that need extra help we need to have after school and legitimate summer school programs. If that’s not enough, then we should then retain the kids. We shouldn’t be so preoccupied with children graduating in a certain amount of time; we should be preoccupied with preparing them to be successful in life even if it takes longer.

Our schools have to be disciplined. We don’t have to be cruel, strict and fair will suffice. Consequences for bad behavior should be swift and meaningful and remember for a consequence to be meaningful they must mean something. We can’t send kids to their rooms where their ipods, face book pages and game boys are and expect them to learn anything. We must have them picking up trash, mopping floors, staying after school or wearing school uniforms. You want to wear what you want? Then you need to stop making Mrs. So and So’s room miserable. If that didn’t work for a few, we have to have the ability to let them go. We could achieve great addition through a little subtraction.

Then we also need multiple curriculums. We have to realize we don’t have the kids we wish we did, we have the kids we do and then plan accordingly. Not every kid is going to college and we should be okay with that, heck we should embrace it. Every day I hear a story about how some plumber, mechanic or electrician charged some crazy high fee and those are jobs that won’t be outsourced to India. We have denigrated the trades and skills when those are the noble professions that built this country, plus if kids are doing what they are interested in, well there is a good chance they will do better in school. Friends unless you are teaching rocket science, teaching isn’t rocket science.

We also have to stop teaching to the test. We don’t want robots or autotrons that can just pass a test, we want well rounded students who can critically think and our engaged with what they are learning and we should be able to get that everywhere not just in pockets here and there and at the dedicated magnet schools.

Like I said the school district lost its way and went from doing what’s right being important to our numbers being the end all be all that there is.

People talk all the time about how parents need to step up and do what’s right, well they are not the only ones. Schools need to do so too. Right now the way we do things often makes things worse. If a kid isn’t going to learn any discipline, manners or a work ethic at home then it is paramount they get those things at school because if not there then where?

If we can do what is right by our kids, then our system will improve. If our system improves the community will regain their faith. Instead of being a source of pity and revulsion our school system will become a source of pride. A crown jewel we can rally around.

The city has lost its faith in our schools and I don’t blame them but it’s something our schools could get back and it’s as simple as doing them doing the right thing.


  1. Chris, I spoke with a industrial arts teacher who was forced to retire or be fired. I know this man. He is in his 50s with over 30 years in the classroom. He had a stellar career at Parker. First he was surplused, then he was set up at Lee to get nuked. He knew the writing was on the wall when the principal visited him several times in a couple weeks. He started to become physically ill. He had to see a doctor it became so bad. He just gave up. He was so beat down. The system and profession he gave so much to crushed him and discarded him as if he were an empty soda can.

  2. Have him get in touch with me and I will tell his story and then help me get elected to the school board so I can make sure stuff like this doesn't happen ever agin.

  3. This is PERFECT! It's time to shake things up.