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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

School Board rearanges deck chairs on Titanic... again

It’s hard not to be jaded. It’s hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. It’s hard not to think of our school board as a hapless bunch feeling around in the dark and this was made all the more apparent with their recent announcement of their plan to split our four schools in danger of closing into eight smaller schools that will occupy the same campuses. They say the cost for this rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic during these trying financial times is merely 2.7 million more dollars.

The district was given three options of what to do if the three high schools and one middle school didn’t improve. Fire the principals and staff, turn them over to private management companies to run or close them. Admittedly none of these options are very satisfactory. The school board however went off the menu and has proposed splitting the schools into two specialty schools each that would occupy the same campuses. My fist question is, if the kids are struggling with the regular education how are they supposed to miraculously be successful with the specialized curriculums?

Here is a possible solution they might not have thought of, how about stop promoting kids to high schools when they don’t have the skills to be successful in them? Barring that our only conceivable back up plan with even a chance of working should include fairy dust or a magic wand.

Sadly what everybody seems to be dancing around and what nobody wants to admit is the fact we have already failed most of the kids at these high schools. They are done; there is not much we can do for them. At worse they will have a life long menial existence and at best their development has been set back years. We have promoted them along without the skills they need and without a work ethic or any discipline. I don’t like it but that’s how it is. They are following thousands upon thousands of other kids we have sent out into society ill prepared for college or the work force. That’s where we currently find ourselves. It however doesn’t have to stay like that.

What we can do is say enough is enough, we’re not going to fail any kids any longer and the biggest way we can do that is by failing some of them. I know that sounds counter intuitive and it will hurt the sacred cow that graduation rates have become but we can’t continue to pass kids and hope they somehow catch up. A decade of doing so should have proven to us by now that it’s not going to work. Graduating kids on time shouldn’t be the number one goal of Duval County’s Public Schools. Graduating children prepared to be productive and civil citizens should be and we should be okay if that takes some regardless of color a little while longer to get there.

Then all the specialty programs like the school board is recommending implementing in the world will not make a difference if schools are places where kids can’t and don’t want to learn. The first thing we must do is take back our hallways and classrooms. Discipline has not improved, teachers tolerance to bad behavior has. Teachers have become masters at ignoring inappropriate behavior that steals education time because they know nothing will be done, well nothing but them having their classroom management questioned and their bonuses, evaluations and potentially their jobs put in jeopardy. Teachers often receive harsher consequences for writing kids up than the kids themselves do.

We must improve our learning environments, we don’t have to be harsh, strict and fair will suffice but if we want to have any chance of having a solution that doesn’t involve fairy dust or a magic wand then bringing discipline and meaningful consequences to our schools and classrooms is where we have to start. If this means we lose a few that won’t conform along the way, well that’s unfortunate but we’ll have addition through subtraction. We will save the ones we can, which I think is a better plan than keeping the ones that pull everybody around them down with them.

After that then we need to make our schools enjoyable. Kids who find school a chore are not going to excel, we need to make multiple and realistic curriculums that fit more of their needs and to do so we have to realize we don’t have the kids we wish we had, we have the kids we do and plan accordingly. Some might not like to hear it but that means that a fair amount of our kids aren’t going to go to college right after graduating high school either because of aptitude or desire. That however should be okay. Remember the goal of our public schools should be to prepare our children to be productive and civil citizens with whatever they choose to do, whether that is college or something else.

Kids in the lower grades need to play and be exposed to the arts, and then kids in the upper grades need to play a role in what their education consists of. Kids that want to drive trucks shouldn’t have to take algebra II. Kids that want to be artists or musicians should have those opportunities and kids that are more interested in earning a decent wage upon graduation rather than going to college should have the opportunity to learn a trade or a skill.

You want children to do well in school? Well make it both a place where learning can occur and a place where they want to be.

My next question is, what doesn’t the school board get?

The school board has been floundering around for a decade now, trying this and trying that to no avail. How many more chances are we going to give them? When are we going to say enough is enough? It’s hard not to be jaded. It’s hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. It’s hard not to think of our school board as a hapless bunch feeling around in the dark. Split the schools up they say, it’s only 2.7 million more dollars they cry, lets ignore the real problems, a lack of discipline and kids hating school, for a little bit longer they ask.

We have a choice, we can continue on the same path or we can say enough is enough.


  1. Wow. This is great and I agree 100%. Until they fix the discipline and social promotion problems, they're going to have a hard time saving any of those schools. After teaching at several schools, I've come to believe that the Duval County school district is WAY too big. Most of the counties in SC have several small school districts (Lexington 1, Lexington 2, Lexington 3, etc. with separate school boards, superintendents, schedules, etc.

  2. It also seems like the magnet schools are draining the other schools dry. (As a parent -and a hypocrite, I'm all for magnet schools.) Maybe if there weren't so many magnet schools the other schools would have a chance??

  3. I hear you and if I had kids they would go to a dedicated magnet school too and I think they are a big part of the problem, they pull away some of the most motivated kids and families...

  4. This is what school boards do. Re-arranging deck chairs is their job. You don't really think an education bureaucracy is interested in educating, do you?

    We probably don't agree on much, as I'm a pro-voucher, pro-digital learning, pro-transformation advocate.

    If you aren't advocating for getting rid of districts and freeing up the profession, you are just tinkering at the edges.

    I feel sorry for the stuff that teachers have to deal with, as they are the only ones in the bureaucracy who actually do anything, but you de-professionalized your career when you hitched your wagon to unionism.

    You are now stuck in a system where the whims of the DOE, NEA, IFT, consultants, and other powerful political players dictate your lives. You are handcuffed to that by the protection you get for your pay and pension security, which, if you haven't noticed, is starting to collapse.

    I understand that most teachers hate school choice. That's too bad. It is the only path to the re-professionalization of your craft.

  5. A colleague of mine said the other day that he was glad rick scott was elected because now education would hit rock bottom where instead we had been hovering just above it.

    I think a better solution would be to get all the cooks out of the kitchen that were more
    interested in the bottom line than children and fix public schools. Though I admit if we did that and it didn't work we would have to try something else.

    It is not nearly as fun or rewarding to be a teacher as it used to be.