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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Florida plans to abandon its most vulnerable children.

They will anyway if people like Senate President Don Geatz, state board of education member Sally Bradshaw and Education Commissioner Tony Bennett and get their way.

The first two can’t understand how teachers at supposedly poor performing schools, re: don’t do well on standardized tests can get effective or higher evaluations. The last says when we have a system that links school grades to teacher’s evaluations then the system will exhibit more common sense.

Let’s do something we should never do and forget for a moment that school grades and teacher evaluations are not designed to sync up and let’s forget for a moment that teachers are playing by a system that was developed in Tallahassee to the chagrin of most of them and instead let’s just focus on where the vast majority of these supposedly poor performing schools are located and who attends these schools.

The vast majority of these so called underperforming schools are in neighborhoods wracked with poverty and lacking opportunity. Crime is higher in these neighborhoods than in the suburbs or the more affluent areas of town where you will find your high performing schools, re: does well on standardized tests. Poverty by the way, is not an excuse, it is the number one quantifiable measurement in determining how students do in school. Those kids that live in poverty as a group don’t do as well as those that don’t.

Many of these children live with extended family members or come from one parent households. Some are homeless and others live in foster care. Many of these students don’t have enough to eat and worry where their next meal is coming from. Some of their parents don’t see the value of education and some of the ones that do are too tired from working their low paying jobs to be very involved. Many of the students at these schools have to worry about violence in their neighborhoods and have had the classes they enjoy like art and music eliminated, because rich kids get to take them and poor kids only get tested. Then every one of them is shoved into a one size fits all curriculum regardless of their desire or ability. Now because a few politicians in Tallahassee don’t understand how evaluations work they want to take away their teachers, for some the only stable adult in their lives, too.

Who is going to want to work at one of these schools, with our most vulnerable children if they know they can be let go because of how they do on a test score? People forget that five years ago we were recruiting in Canada, India, and the business world because we couldn’t find enough teachers. There won’t be enough Teach for Awhile, make that America recruits to fill the classrooms, not that we should want them to anyways because putting them there is the exact opposite of best practices. I am not saying we shouldn’t have any accountability. I am saying we shouldn’t blindfold teachers, tie their hands and then ask them to build a bike.

Some people might say charter schools are the answer as many have set up shops in these poor neighborhoods and siphoned both resources and children away from the public schools there. The problem is charter schools don’t do any better than our public schools do and many do worse. In Florida last year according to State Impact if your child were to have attended a charter school they were 7 times more likely to have attended a failing school. Furthermore charter schools are often manned by an ever rotating door of neophytes or once again what we know to be the opposite of best practices. No the answer is not more charter schools many of which are operated by corporations far more interested in the bottom line than educating our children.

I have an idea, why doesn’t the state legislature pass a law telling districts they have to flip the staffs at the best performing school, re: does well on standardizes tests with the worst performing school, re: doesn’t do well on standardized tests. The state has already seized local control when they started over riding charter school decisions and telling districts how to evaluate teachers. By the states logic the children at the low performing school will see their grades sky rocket, except we all know that will not happen. Well everybody but those actually pulling the strings that is. I guess there is a chance that if staffs switched Mr. Geatz and Mrs. Bradshaw would realize that teaching even great teaching can only take a child so far if a child is hungry, afraid and doesn’t have a parent who cares. Though who knows they might want this new set of teachers fired too when the inevitable happens and their scores say stagnant. By the way, I’ m not saying these schools can’t improve. I am saying if we want them to then we need to stop tackling the wrong problem.

If Geatz, Bradshaw and Bennett were really interested in improving the schools in our poorer neighborhoods they would give up their obsession with evaluating and punishing teachers and would instead come up with ways to mitigate poverty.

We need to put social workers and mental health counselors in our struggling schools because quite often why kids act up or do poorly in school has nothing to do with school. We need to make school year around for many of our children by providing legitimate summer school opportunities and I am not talking about throwing kids in front of computers. That way kids can make up losses and have less time to lose gains. Then we need to make school more relevant to children by offering multiple curriculums (skills, trades and arts) that play to their strengths and desires and are less drudgery to them, furthermore every kid should have one elective of their choosing on their schedule. And speaking of schedules we must adjust them to meet our student’s needs and abilities, right now for many of our kids, not only are they taking too many classes at a time, but they are too long and meet too infrequently.

Sadly however instead of tackling the real problem and coming up with real solutions, these powers-that-be are more interested in fixing a problem that isn’t there. Geatz, Bradshaw and Bennett are truly doing our students, especially are most vulnerable ones a disservice and maybe that was their plan all along.


  1. Chris, send this to Mr. Vitti

  2. As a recently retired high school teacher of students in the bottom quartile, everything you wrote here is correct. I would add that students living in poverty don't have enough role models to show them the value of education. How much education do you need as a rap star or professional athlete? Their aspirations are limited by their surroundings and the media onslaught that promotes the “gansta” lifestyle. Those summer programs you wrote about could encompass so much that is missing from their daily lives, including motivational speakers who have escaped poverty--there must be plenty around who would be willing to tell their stories. Combine that with sports, computer enrichment, board games, art, music, and trades and students would flood the programs. It always seems like we have plenty of money at the back end (criminal justice), but little on the front end that could help kids stay away from trouble.