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Friday, April 26, 2013

Florida blames teachers for society’s problems. (rough draft)

And if you want proof just look at what they are doing to Lacoochee Elementary in Pasco County; the state is demanding the district fire the entire staff, rookies and veterans alike. Now the Florida Department of Education admits that Lacoochee elementary is a poor school in a rural and poor part of the state. They admit that the county has had a hard time staffing the school with over half of the staff leaving over the last few years and they admit the vast amount of its students lives in poverty, they however just don’t care and want the entire staff replaced.

Poverty by the way is the number one measurable factor that determines how kids do in school. Students that live in poverty don’t do as well as those that don’t. Poverty is also the number one ignored factor in schools. The powers that be like to dismiss poverty and instead point to this guy or that girl who made it out. You know who they don’t point to? All the people who didn’t!

Pasco County had a plan to mitigate poverty. According to the Tampa Times, The district's original plan for the school was to increase teacher training, add more instructional coaches and bolster other resources for the school, which serves a high-poverty, heavily minority rural community.

Instead the state said fire everyone. Not that a high turnover wasn’t already a problem something many schools mired in poverty face which is exasperated by the introduction of Teach for America into many of our highest need schools. Teach for America recruits, none of whom have an education background, attend a six week access course and then serve a two year commitment. Undoubtedly there are some fine TFA teachers but most just as they are starting to understand what it takes to be a teacher when they are off to the next phase of their lives.

Pascoe County with no other option is going to advertise for “top replacements” offering a 2,500 hundred dollars signing bonus. Let’s see, after taxes that’s about 1,750 dollars, divided by 26 pay checks, that comes out to around 67 bucks every two weeks. If you were a “top replacement” at an “A” school, because the state would have you believe that is where all the top teachers are, there can’t possibly be good teachers at the schools that don't do well on standardized tests, would you leave that school to work at a school where the last thing done to improve the school was fire the entire staff? Would you leave that school to work at a school mired in poverty where you would probably have to supply many of the essentials your kids need? Would you leave that school to go to a school where you were under the thumb of the state and their incessant demands for word walls, posted standards and dozens of other requirements that have nothing to do with education? Would you leave your “A” school and potentially give up thousands of dollars in school recognition money, you know the system put in place that practically guarantees the best teachers at so-called good schools never leave? Probably not for 2,500 dollars anyway, not that teachers often make decisions based on money, if they did most wouldn’t be teachers.

Gone will be all the first year teachers, who aren’t responsible for all that happened before they got there. Gone will be all the veteran teachers who have dedicated years working with kids who nobody else wanted to work with, their only sin they couldn’t overcome poverty. Gone will be the principal who has been there just since 2010 and it doesn’t matter that there have been improvements in reading and writing scores. I just can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen if they somehow turn it around and the school grade goes from a D to a C. Is the state going to say, “oops my bad”?

Where are the social workers and therapists because often why kids act up or do poorly in school has nothing to do with school. Does the school have art, music and PE classes, those subjects that often make school worth going to for many? I couldn’t tell from my research but if they are like many poor schools my bet is either no, or kids get to go to them once every couple weeks. A lot of kids in poverty get it coming and going, there home life is often unfulfilling and they come to school and it is not much better.

Friends as long as we ignore poverty and its debilitating effects, as long as we blame teachers for things they don’t have control of we are never going to improve. The best teacher in the world can’t control if their students have enough to eat, if their parents are involved or not, if they are too worried about where their next meal is coming from or the violence in their neighborhoods to focus on school. They can’t control, if the policy makers have decided to eliminate those classes like art and music that make school enjoyable to kids or if every kid is shoved into a one size fits all curriculum regardless of desire or ability or not. There are so many factors that teachers can’t control it’s not hard to believe that some of the best teachers in the world are at some of our “struggling” schools, even where their kids do poorly on standardized tests. Firing the staff is not fairy dust, a magic wand or a silver bullet, firing a staff is not going to improve any school. All it does is show the ignorance about education and what it takes to be a teacher by those who are unfortunately in charge.

Perhaps 11 year old Ayala can sum up the tragedy better than me. "I don't think it's a good idea, my teacher barely started this year, and she's a good teacher. . . . We don't need them gone, because they make a difference in our lives."

To read the Tampa Times piece click here:

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