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Sunday, June 06, 2010

Applying Reason to the High School Initiative Discussion

By Dr. Mario Sánchez

One of the greatest characteristics of the American success story is the freedom to choose. Allowing individuals to choose nearly everything in their lives has created a rich, diverse and prosperous way of life. And part of the ability to choose comes from the freedom to create a choice when implementing an idea by which something can be improved upon.

When it is axiomatic that allowing people to chose almost anything improves the collective American way of life, then it is perplexing why there is so much derision from certain quarters when individuals chose where to send their children to school. Equally curious is the aversion against those that chose to developed what they believe to be an improved approach to the enduring problem of how best to teach children.

But as with all issues, the honest apply a level of intellectual curiosity in vetting the rationale by which the self-evident, in this case choice, is criticized. To wit, herein are the arguments.

But first, two disclosures. First, I am a professional teacher, a tenured professor of computer science, informatics and bioinformatics. What this means is that I dedicate at the minimum 60 hours per week to undergraduate and graduate level students, in addition to the myriad administrative issues associated with the country's largest and highest rated college. While such a position may deem that my views are biased, there is no bias in being a near-decades old recipient of the product of high schools – namely, the university freshman. Secondly I support a high school on Marco Island. In fact I along with Dr. Fay Biles (a thirty-year professional teacher as well) were the organizers of the original initiative approximately three years ago. Our vision then was to establish a high school on Marco Island dedicated exclusively to exemplary, university-level education in the basics: Mathematics, Sciences, English, and Social Sciences. From there another initiative surfaced, with their own ideas, and in keeping with the spirit of choice, that initiative espouses somewhat divergent ideas that I support.

Back to the arguments critical of the high school initiative.

The Lely Argument
A high school on Marco Island will take away from Lely. Lely has the sports programs. "My child went to Lely, is very happy and had a wonderful experience". "My child went to Lely and is now a successful (fill in the blank)." Lely offers real-world experiences in diversity, culture and "other things." "I sent my child to Lely, and it's a great school." "Lely has a great sports program."

First, thank God that your child did well, is happy and had a wonderful experience irrespective where that child went to high school. However, that does not mean that all children did well, are happy or had a wonderful experience at Lely. And for those that didn't have the same experience or success, didn't they deserve the same experience? For example, last year's statistics show that approximately from 25% to 35% of the students in Collier County could not read or perform arithmetic or read at their grade level. Aren't these 25% to 35% of the children entitled to a "wonderful experience" and are they not entitled to having the education so as to be successful at (fill in the blank)?

And therein lies the problem and why I denoted my position at a university – the overwhelming amount of our time is not spent with the happy successful freshman college student, but with the approximately 30% that do not have an 8th grade education and somehow wound up in a college.

So, if an organized group of individuals finds a better way to reach those failed 30%, the result of allowing the existent school systems decades of attempts and billions of dollars expenditures, why not let them try?

Here is another statistic before moving on: Florida ranks 48th in the nation in high school graduation rates at approximately 70% - meaning that 30% of the students don't graduate. Can we not let an initiative that seeks to address that appalling 30% failure rate an opportunity? Or should we just accept this 30% failure rate just because you/your child had a great experience at some existent school?

Then there is the argument that someone's child went to the school that they assume will be impacted by the Marco Island high school initiative. This is rather interesting: just because some parent sent their child to a particular school does that mean that the rest of us must follow suit? Why? What if we as a family or the child as an individual have/has particular learning, physical, dietary, ecumenical requirements? Or just want to exercise a right to chose?

The argument of "our child went there so yours must too" is vacuous at best. One of my sons went to one of the top five high schools in the United States. I wouldn't recommend that anyone send their child to that high school (not just because it is in California, but because it may not be engaging for every child).

Similarly, the best high schools in the world are now in Cuba – there is an exceedingly high level of education taught by premiere scholars and mandated by a brutal regime resulting in a population with a near 100% literacy rate (far better than the United States). Anyone want to send their child to Cuba to be in the best high schools in the world?

Two final points. The sports argument is attention-grabbing as it exposes a greater problem. What if the child is not sports inclined – what value does a sports program then serve that child? A child can be physically fit and not be in organized sports.

We often hear of some student that has received a sports scholarship – again be thankful and happy for that student. But here is the rub: and what about the hundreds of thousands of other students that did not receive a sports scholarship? A better question: why doesn't the local "newspapers" or the school district's propaganda machine not detail the story of a dropout that had no sports scholarship?

Lastly, good students (yes, there are such students despite the cancer of political correctness) will excel anywhere. They will make the best of any circumstance, not spend their time whining and complaining and blaming everyone and everything. Scholars succeeded from good and bad schools alike.

So as to the Lely arguments, they are not rational but merely emotional. The Marco Island high school initiatives – past and present – never decried what happened or did not happen at Lely. In fact, the school was never mentioned, nor will it ever be mentioned. These initiatives simply want a high school on the island implemented using novel and arguably better didactic strategies.

By the way, another one of my sons graduated from Lely.

Tract K
This is really, really simple. The land deed clearly states SCHOOL SITE. This is a legal document. Deltona gave the land to the Collier County School Board for the expressed purpose that the land be used for a SCHOOL SITE.

No one can construe that the land is to be used for a power generating plant or to be sold for profit. The superintendent has no legal or moral right to sell the land to anyone – which is his latest salvo in an attempt to derail the high school initiative.

Now, the City of Marco Island recently undertook exploratory conversations with the Collier County School Board to buy tract K. This movement seemed to be a benevolent idea by which to protect the property from the island's established insidious rapacious commercial interests. While I initially supported this idea, I no longer do so.

Reason being that the syndicate has reared its ugly head by suggesting again that tract K be used for a power generating facility. And while the current council leadership is honest and honorable, it may not be that way forever thereby running the risk that at some time in the future tract K will wind up in the noted wrong hands.

Regardless, it is easier for the Collier County School Board to do what it is legally obligated to do – to provide the land as deeded.

Lastly, the ruse that there is an eagle on the land prevents any development (except the syndicate's power generating facility for some not-so-odd reason) has also resurfaced. The real restriction is quite different than what is being espoused by the syndicate or the "environmental specialist". A properly designed school can be built on tract K in deference to the eagle and related laws.

Taxes
Taxes will increase. No. There will be a fee. No.

Here is a question: Are Marco Island taxpayers happy with the approximately $50million they send every year to the Collier County School Board?

Summary
During the many years I undertook my PhD studies I was fortunate to be part of a large cadre of exceedingly bright doctoral computer science and engineering students. Sadly, none were born in the United States, and only one had a high school diploma from Florida (me – a long time ago).

Our educational K-12 system needs help. And not just locally, but in a state that consistently ranks near-last and sadly in a country that also ranks near-last of the industrialized world. Despite the popular mantras, the problem is not from lack of money, or because of the "unions", or because of inept teachers.

The problem comes from a lack of options, bloated administrations, suffocating bureaucracies and an appreciable portion of parental disengagement.

With the Marco Island high school initiative the people have an opportunity to negate these causes that have wronged all too many of our most precious resource. Be grateful you or your child was or is a success elsewhere, while supporting an idea by which to improve a process that needs improving for the benefit of our community and country.

2 Comments:

  • Do you really expect me, and others, to believe that a Marco High School will be for the 25 to 30% who may not get a quality education at Lely? It is to benefit the elitest people of Marco not the migrants or poorer people of the area. You will at best have token under-advantaged students attending this school. I don't want the school board or city to sell the property. I also want the property to service the people who it was intended to serve, the children of Marco, not their elitest parents.

    By Anonymous Mike, at Tuesday, June 08, 2010 8:15:00 PM  

  • what i want you to believe is what has been proven in practice repeatedly without exception: that when given a choice for exemplary education, EVERYONE will come from far and away, especially those that need it most - in this case, the ones that DON'T live on marco island.

    my original vision was to provide university-level education in the basics. the present movement has other priorities - fair enough.

    but either way, regardless if the school is in marco island or on the moon, those that need it most - minorities, the 30%

    besides, should we just sit around and wring our hands in the HOPE that the existing schools address those 30%? hell, they haven't for decades and after spending TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS.

    what is wrong with affording locally A PROVEN TIME AND TIME AGAIN process of building something better and they will come?

    lastly, though i have no skin the game, namely none of my children will go to this marco island high school, i will be the first one decrying any discrimination - as i have done so when the island's syndicate used hoary racial tropes against hispanics (and come to think of it i dont recall any detractor of the high school then criticizing the syndicate for their KKK meeting and slurs.)

    By Blogger Dr. Mario, at Wednesday, June 09, 2010 7:01:00 AM  

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