Five Top Stories Overlooked by the Media
The Jacksonville Public Education Fund named their top 5 education stories for 2014:
1. Testing and accountability.
2. Violence in Jacksonville (involving youth).
3. Quality Education for All Fund.
4. Marketing, school choice and middle school reform.
5. Rise in graduation rate.
But here are 5 stories that have been overlooked but should not have been:
1. Large swelling of class sizes in core classes along with no effort to reduce excessive elective class sizes. A law took effect July 1, 2014 that negated penalties for excessive class sizes. The constitutional amendment remains in effect but schools and districts will no longer suffer penalties for non-compliance. This year, the state will determine penalties according to school-wide averages rather than a class by class measurement, which by the way, is what the amendment prescribes. In response, districts have increased class sizes dramatically: core mathematics classes in middle school have 33 students and no one blinks an eye as long as the average is met or within the district’s predetermined tolerance. The real scandal is in elective classes which now average in the 40s because there’s no penalty. District leaders have abandoned the pretense of caring.
2. Tepid response to violence in the schools. Every time students are caught bringing guns to schools, we are promised an increase in random searches of classrooms and buses. Duval County, know the truth: it doesn’t happen. Three guns were found within a 30 day stretch in my school. The number of random searches taking place after that: ZERO. Perhaps the people in charge don’t know the meaning of the word random. Random means there was no tip, no reason to suspect a weapon, but a class was selected and a search was performed.
3. The failure of the new Code of Conduct. This one bothers me because the new Code has not been given a fair chance. It cannot stand on its own, but that is what schools are trying to do. Initiatives like Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Support are half-hearted or non-existent. That is why Class 2 and 3 violations have dramatically increased. There is little encouragement for students to act right and the consequences of acting wrong are gone. The District may protest with statistics that show violations are down, but people, get real. District statistics are based on what schools enter into the information systems. The old game of not entering referrals to show good numbers goes on.
4. The collapse of Westside schools. As the QEA initiative draws the best teachers and lion’s share of resources into the district’s most challenged schools, the Westside continues to be ignored or come last in the district’s priorities. As a result, the district is replicating the failing conditions of the Northwest corridor on the Westside. The media stories are already written: rerun the stories of the last 15 to 20 years but replace Ribault and Raines with Westside High, Ed White, Jefferson Davis, and Jeb Stuart. Don’t be fooled by Middle School reform: if you go through the plan carefully, you will understand the lack of thought that went into themes for the Westside schools. Lots of school received information and communications technology, aerospace engineering, or the like. Schools like Jeb Stuart: technology, with a little T. That could mean anything. Pencil manufacturing is technology, low tech indeed, but still technology.
5. Revolt of School Boards against privatization: Admittedly, we have not seen this in Duval County. But in South Florida, School Boards are beginning to question the need for charter schools that open next to successful public schools and to examine the history of applicants for past failures, and are turning down the applicants. Since we are experiencing a perfect storm of wealthy businesspeople, non-profit foundations that push charter schools, and a compliant school board, don’t look for this story to appear anytime soon.