The following is a short list of my priorities for Hillsborough County Schools. These are common sense, yet the career politicians, bureaucrats and industry insiders running your schools, have other motivation.
The classroom, not the boardroom.
It all happens in the classroom. Yet, the growth of administrative spending outpaces instructional spending statewide; including Hillsborough County. Your school district is adding costly administrative positions, based on current levels of grant and federal support. When this support dries-up, where do you think the suffering will take place; the classroom, or the boardroom?
Schools, not school grades.
Our children cannot afford for us to continue chasing Tallahassee’s school grading formula-of-the-month. The formulas change making us look better; we applaud ourselves. They change making us look bad; we complain about their inaccuracy and shortsightedness. Either way, we change the way we teach, test and fund. This is not right. Our students need for us to design coherent education that looks out for their futures, not administration bonuses based on school grades.
Special Needs Students
The Hillsborough County School District has a history of ESE abuses that can only be called reprehensible. As a former ESE teacher, I find such abuses of policy, law and morality especially reprehensible. I will hold the District administration accountable, and demand transparency in a system that must protect our most vulnerable students.
Very frightening is the push from Tallahassee to include our special-needs kids in the school-grading formulas. I have taught kids with special needs. It can be very difficult to measure progress. I dread the day that these kids are batted about like the political footballs our other students have become – all in the name of school grades.
When I was in school, I took the Stanford Exam every few years. It was no big deal. In fact, we didn’t even know it was coming. One day we would go to Social Studies class and take a test instead of having normal class.
Today, the avalanche of standardized tests, especially the FCAT, are a big deal; a HUGE deal. Here’s just a sample of why:
- Administrative bonuses depend on the results.
- A child’s progression to the next grade is at stake.
- Florida and Hillsborough County are placing their “educational prestige” on the line.
- Teachers’ jobs and salaries depend on the results.
- The results are politicized.
- Testing companies in the education industry are reaping huge profits.
No one would ever have considered “teaching-the-test” with the one exam we took. With FCAT, it has become virtually mandatory that teachers “teach-the-test”. We have robbed an entire generation of the opportunity to be taught with innovation and creativity; totally against the will of their teachers.
We need to start over; only this time let educators, not politicians and the education industry, determine the minimum amount of testing necessary to provide accountability and guidance.
Not everyone goes to college. Yet, the overwhelming majority of students in our schools have been enrolled in the college preparatory curriculum. A high school freshman, with below grade-level math and English, is placed in two math classes and two, sometimes three, English classes. The idea is for us to get this child to pass the FCAT. What actually happens is a frustrated student drops out of school; sacrificed on the FCAT altar. Parents and students need choices. Technical and career training can take a potential drop-out and give that kid the chance to become an employed, productive, tax-paying citizen. One who can enjoy the sense of self-worth that comes with accomplishment.
Teachers make it happen
Teachers. Not administrators, not programs, not school improvement plans, not the latest fad curriculum. Teachers. Yet, in the education reform craze sweeping the country, teachers are vilified. We are blaming the soldier in the trenches for the mistakes of Generals. Teachers need our support, not the finger of blame. Hillsborough County in particular, has embraced a method of teacher evaluation that holds them responsible for variables totally outside of their control. We must reverse a course that threatens the very foundation of public education.
Study after study have shown music to have a tremendous impact on intellectual development and ability. Music education may in fact prove one of the most cost-effective means of enhancing a child’s intellectual growth. I am certified to teach both mathematics and music. Does it seem odd to specialize in two seemingly different disciplines? It is not; music and math develop the same brain areas.
High school band programs have probably saved more kids than any other drop-out prevention attempt. During football games, would you have children sitting on the bleachers playing the school’s fight song; or under the bleachers getting into mischief?
In times of budget crisis, I will not immediately look to the arts for cost savings. Many school systems have. This is a bad economic decision. We will make deep cuts to administration and bureaucracy before touching any programs that truly impact kids.
We are enamored of technology, thinking it the solution to more fundamental problems. At great expense, we are filling our schools with computers, e-book readers and smart-boards. We require our students to provide $100 scientific, graphing calculators. As a math teacher, I find the reliance on technology troubling. America put men on the moon with blackboards and slide-rules. I have students in advanced math classes who reach for the calculator to divide 40 by 2. If they get an answer of 80, they believe it. There is a place for technology in our schools. However, there is no place for calculators in our elementary schools! We must not allow short-cuts until the basics are firmly established.
I am greatly troubled by the rushed implementation of the common-core standards. With common-core comes an entire new student testing, school grading and teacher evaluation paradigm; things Florida already does poorly. There are many arguments against common-core, but the one I find most compelling is the most simple: “Standards are not a major problem in education”. Ask anyone what they consider to be the greatest problem in education. You will hear answers like:
- lazy kids
- lazy parents
- lazy principals
- lazy teachers
- incompetent bureaucracy
- grade inflation
- watered down classes
- teaching to the test
You will mostly hear about the who and how; not the what.
The most controversial, most expensive and most extensive endeavor in the history of US education, does not even address a major concern. With tweaking, our Florida Sunshine State Standards could be of world-class caliber. There are many higher return investments we can make than a complete revamp of standards and thus curricula.
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