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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Realism in Latest Education News

This week the Florida Department of Education treated parents in Collier County with a report denoting that the Collier County Learning Education Agency (a euphemism for the Collier County School Board) did not meet basic grade-level proficiency in reading and in arithmetic for four consecutive years. (click here for the letter)

The "proficiency level" is 65% for reading and 68% for arithmetic; meaning that based on some standardized test, in order for students to be considered "proficient", 65% of students have to read at their grade level, and 68% of students have to do arithmetic at their grade level. Collier County scored 61% and 66% respectively.

Let us put this in perspective.

First of all, shouldn't the goal should be that all students, 100% of them, be able to read and do arithmetic at their grade level? Apparently not in Florida.

Secondly, for the district to meet this "proficiency level", and therefore be able to pat itself on the back, it is acceptable for 35% of the students to not be able to read at their grade level, and it is acceptable for 32% of the students to not be able to do arithmetic at their grade level. Basically, if the district fails 1/3 of our students, they are doing a good job.

Thirdly, the metric by which this "proficiency" is measured, is none other than the FCAT. You know, that test that nearly all state university professors abhor as well as the majority of K-12 teachers, albeit the latter doing so privately.

And lastly in this disconcerting list of perspectives, consider the fact that failing 1/3 of students based on a questionable assessment is being meted out by a state that consistently ranks last amongst states in a country that ranks 18th out of 34 in primary education (K-12) of industrialized countries.

There is a mess beyond the pitifully low expectations resulting from Florida being governed as if in a perennial popularity contest.

In a 2009 study conducted by Education Week, Florida ranked 43rd out of the 50 states in graduation rates, reaching an abysmally low 60.8%. That's almost 40% of high school students who are not graduating in a state that only expects 2/3 of the students to read and do arithmetic at their grade level. Imagine if every student in Florida had to read and do arithmetic at their grade level in order to move on to the next grade: the graduation level would be even worse.

The 2008 American Legislative Exchange Council Report Card on American Education has Florida 48th in the nation in average composite scores on the ACT, a standard college entrance exam.

Even apparatchiks within the state of Florida's good 'ol boys network have recently sent warning signals. Just last month the Florida Chamber of Commerce issued a stern warning to the Florida educational ochlocracy: unemployment will get much worse if Florida education doesn't start focusing on science, technology and mathematics because tourism and real-estate flipping will no longer support us.

Contrast these independent reports and the seemingly endless list of objective studies decrying the State of Florida's education with the propaganda put forth by the state for consumption by the feel-good status quo. It is as if we are living in The Matrix.

For realists, the issue is and has always been to look beyond the propaganda and focus on what to do about this perennial sad state of affairs. Oddly, the solution has always been the simplest to put forth but yet the hardest to implement.

First, every citizen of Florida must realize that they have a stake in education. Our way of life as a representative republic depends on it. Need proof? Are you frustrated that so many people buy into the man-made global warming hoax, or that they think "flex-fuel" vehicles are good for the environment, or that the majority voted to rob the treasury? What does one expect when over 15% of Florida high school graduates upon entering college don't understand how to compute an average?

Secondly, can we stop setting mediocre standards? How can we expect our children to excel if we find it acceptable that 1/3 of all student can't read or do arithmetic at their grade level? For those of us that have actually taught in a classroom, we know quite well that the higher the expectations, the better the outcome. And for those of us that have actually taught in a classroom, we know quite well that the higher the expectations, the more flak we get from the administrative bureaucracy. Low expectation initiatives such as the No Child Left Behind contrivance now practically guarantee that in Florida we leave 1/3 to 40% of our students behind. What else is expected if the expectation is exactly just that?

Thirdly, more money is not the answer – the public education system is a bloated bureaucracy that wastes entirely too much time and money on programs that have nothing to do with the core curriculum, on initiatives that are aesthetically pleasing but intellectually vacuous, and at superficial machinations so as to thwart complaints from the rogue crank. The money is there – make it available to those that actually do the teaching, for the resources directly related to teaching and cut out the middlemen (or in the case of the educational Borg, the middlemillionmen.) This idea is not new – look at the success of the medical facilities that have doctors doubling as administrators.

Next, stop the blame game and take responsibility. The reason for a poorly performing educational system is not the unions or the minuscule few inept teachers or some bogeyman. Parents must become actively involved in the K-12 educational process by continually demanding the best from the best so that the education being provided is the best.

Lastly, if a rating must be provided, can it be one that is honest? Can it be one that is objective and not self-serving; namely not one generated by the state of Florida so it can rate itself? The complacency afforded by the self-serving rating systems must be put aside so that we all can take an objected stock of the K-12 situation. While everyone loves to hear about an A+++ rated this or that, or about a student that went on to a prestigious school or became a world-class athlete, we must realize that in Florida many are not so fortunate. (Besides, as Albert Einstein was apt to note, geniuses are not made and are lucky to survive school).

Can one imagine what would happen if there was a similar self-serving rating scheme by and for financial institutions … but wait, there was one … and it gave us the financial meltdown that gave us an economic debacle not seen since the Great Depression.

Let's stem the fast tide towards the educational debacle that is all too near.


  • Our Island Schools have excellent ratings. TBE & Charter both. I am extremely pleased with the education my grandkids are receiving & I'm an ex-teacher. Other schools may need help, but I can't raise money for & worry about all of them.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Monday, November 16, 2009 12:36:00 PM  

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