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Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Times Union doesn't get it

The Florida Times- Union

My mother worked for the Florida Times- Union for thirty years. I learned to read by reading the paper. When I was little, I would sit at the kitchen table reading the paper with my mother. I still sit at the kitchen table to read the paper. The Florida Times- Union has been a big and important part of my life, and believe me - it gives me no pleasure in saying the Florida Times -Union “just doesn’t get it”. This is hurting both Jacksonville and its children.

Jacksonville intersects two major highways. It’s on both a major river and the ocean. It has a seaport and an international airport. Our city has lots of room to grow and much of the infrastructure in place to do so. We have a professional football team, are close to entertainment hubs and have one of the best park systems in the entire country. We are a pro-business city in a pro-business state that doesn’t have an income tax, and I haven’t even mentioned how great our weather is, yet. On paper, Jacksonville should be one of the fastest- growing and most prosperous cities in the nation - but we’re not. High-wage businesses should be fighting to come here, but they are not. We should be picking and choosing, and thriving, even in these very difficult times; but, again, we’re not. And the biggest reason why we’re not is our school system.

Half of our kids can’t read at grade level. Seventy percent of our kids have to take remedial classes when they get to Florida State College. Our graduation rate and drop- out rates are some of the worst in the state. Employers report a hard time finding a capable workforce. Crime is up, employment is down and civility (or , rather, the lack thereof) is rampant. All of these have their roots in our local public school system.

When the Florida Times- Union, (who would greatly benefit, by the way, from Jacksonville reaching its potential), gives the School Board and the district administration a pass, it’s saying we don’t understand how important a good public school system is. It must be saying that, because if they understood and acted in the same manner, they would be saying they didn’t care.

The Florida Times- Union often acts as a shill for the school board as it merrily reports whatever they say and applies little critical thinking or analysis. In the past year, they have run articles on suspensions being down; grade recovery making an impact; reading programs that are making a difference and an increase in the number of students enrolled in advanced placement classes as all being positives. Unfortunately, discipline is being eroded and grade recovery has become a mockery in that students can attempt it for whatever reason. When I asked the reading teacher of the student profiled in the piece on reading programs, she had never heard of grade recovery. And, kids who have no business being put into AP classes are being put into them. These are just a few examples.

Furthermore, the school board and the Florida Times-Union often like to point out that the Department of Education has ranked us a B district. Both also like to mention all the A and B schools we have. Yet, where is the article on what makes up a B district? Where is the story about how most of these schools funnel into F and D high schools? Where is the story about how private school enrollment is declining everywhere in the state except in Jacksonville where it is growing? Where is the story about how the school system is contracting as the city slowly grows? The Florida Times- Union has also printed several articles about the library’s travel budget, which is meager when compared to the school district’s $450,000 travel budget. Why is the library system vilified at the same time the school system gets a pass?

I recently read an editorial in the Florida Times- Union which called for patience, and reiterated that change takes time. My question is, how many kids do we have to sacrifice on the altar of patience before we say enough is enough? Our problems did not miraculously appear overnight and, if anything, many people in the schools think they are getting worse. I read another editorial that in one paragraph talked about the problems with this year’s F-CAT and in another paragraph pointed out the schools that did very well. Well, which is it - do we like the F-CAT when it tells us what we want to hear and don’t like it when it doesn’t?

Our Superintendent, Ed Pratt Dannals, said something almost verbatim in a letter to the district published on the district’s website. He has also, in the last few months, blamed Florida State College’s entrance exam as a reason why so many of our graduates have had to take remedial classes. He mentioned how parents and teachers need to improve and said, ‘the school system is one good community away from having a good school system’. These are paraphrased quotes taken from the Florida Times –Union, and you can go back and look if you think I have taken them out of context. In short, it’s everybody’s fault but his that the school district is struggling. School Superintendent Ed Pratt Dannals gets a pass from the Florida Times- Union. Could you imagine Mayor Peyton getting a pass if he said some similar things?

Then, when the Florida Times- Union endorses status- quo politicians for the school board, it’s saying that they are okay with business as usual. When it supports state politicians that are obviously anti-education, then the Florida Times-Union is saying that they are anti-education as well. If education is the motor that drives our city, it’s sputtering and badly in need of an overhaul, yet the Florida Times- Union wants to go another hundred thousand miles or so before it looks under the hood. I get how reasonable people can disagree on solutions, but to think the status- quo is allright or that people who are anti-education should be representing us is unreasonable. A common definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over yet expecting a different out come”. I don’t know if the Florida Times- Union is crazy or if they are just okay with the same outcome.

What the Florida Times- Union doesn’t get is that if there are going to be real changes, people are going to have to be made aware of the problems. They can’t be glossed over, ignored or made to sound like successes. It’s only in the Florida Times- Union that the public can get thoughtful analysis and detailed pieces; there is no other local media where that can occur. If the Florida Times- Union isn’t going to do it, who will? And, if nobody is going to do it, then the city is going to continue down the same path we are on. If nobody is going to do it, then at best, we’ll continue with the status-quo and never reach our potential – or, we’ll become the Detroit of the south, a dying city.

I read the Florida Times- Union every day, and it breaks my heart that they seem okay with how things are and that they have abdicated their responsibility as steward of the city. It breaks my heart that they just don’t get it (I hope that’s the case). To think that they do get it but don’t care is almost too terrible to contemplate. But, what’s worse is if they never get it, then the children of Jacksonville may never get it, either; what they need and what the city needs is a first- class school system.

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