Failure to Focus

Failure to Focus

Is the Florida legislature ADD, or what?

  A couple of weeks after learning that 30 per cent or more of its basic education product (students) don't meet grade level standards, the legislature is focusing on inserting prayer into schools. Maybe they've just given up and are calling on God's help. That might help, but I always thought God puts a great deal of responsibility on the individual - unless it's hopeless. On the other hand, the legislators might think that the annual report card was good.

  As a matter of fact, there was a lot of chatter about how scores had improved, that many schools moved up the ladder and showed significant progress. That is true; and that is good. The problem is that the best performing schools in the state (if I read the charts correctly), scored 72 per cent. That's the best. Turn the report around: 28 per cent of the students in the best performing schools aren't meeting grade level standards. Of course, in the not-the-best schools, the not-grade-level exceeded 30 per cent.

  The thought that this kind of a learning deficit can be made up with adult literacy, employer training, tutoring, or vocational training programs, is fairy-land thinking. The number of non-performing former students entering productive society each year is overwhelming. Productive society cannot absorb this number of under-performers. Moreover, modern society requires more and more people who can think, read, write and calculate, rather than the opposite. Work requiring only hands, legs and a good back is there, but diminishing.

  This is compounded by the fact that those who cannot keep up tend to drift further downward. The further back a student is, the more likely he is to drop further back. Simply being left out, not included, is isolating, not unlike a person who cannot speak the language of the community he is in. At best, he will join similarly isolated friends. It's part of the definition of a ghetto (not an ethnic specific phrase, by the way).

  No, this does not address the individuals who do revive themselves and escape through luck, assistance, change, or whatever reason. However, public education is a mass product, designed to educate the masses so they can be productive citizens in a democratic/representative government and capitalist economic system. Both require individual knowledge and participation. Simply put, we cannot afford to fully educate only 60 to 70 per cent of the population.

  About the prayer thing: the proposal is not to put in an institutionalized prayer system, but permit students to join together in certain circumstances to provide prayer and worship to those willing to participate. Or, something like that. Let's get it straight. Prayer is not forbidden in schools. Individuals can pray whenever they like. That's the way it should be. Get the institution out of it. The new proposal, however innocent, puts the institution right back in by making new rules and set-asides. Our education system doesn't need this. It's another burden. In spite of one legislator's comment that a little inspiration would be good, the system needs more than that.

  Focus people. Focus. Prayer is not going to do it. Nor is focusing only on money. Look at the system. Grading schools was intended to put some competition into the system. Perhaps it has worked to an extent, but we can't seem to get away from the need to teach to the test.

  Maybe outside competition would help - like school choice. Maybe wholesale changes in the system affecting managers and teachers and directors. Maybe tracking students between elementary, middle, junior and high school. Maybe tracking college students or getting feedback from colleges. Maybe requiring that teachers only be hired from the top 10 per cent of their class. Maybe requiring new standards for administrators. Maybe special schools for non-competing students. Maybe unattaching public schools from special education. Maybe more money for everyone. Maybe the public would pay more for better results (those sending their children to private schools make big sacrifices for big results). Maybe individual students (and their parents) need to get off their butts with some sense of urgency. Maybe we need tougher discipline. Maybe we need to be able to hire and fire at will. Maybe it's too easy to just slide through or not slide through. Or, maybe all of the above. We seem to know the problems but have problems with the solutions - other than turning to prayer.

  Jumping around from one fad to another doesn't seem to do it. And, just maybe, turning to the legislature for solutions doesn't do it either.