Road block, road block, road block
I was intrigued Sunday by an article in the St. Pete Times section of the Tampa Bay Times about a church-parent-citizen organization, Faith and Action for Strength Together (FAST) and its proposed solution for 14 Pinellas County schools that have failing reading grades. More accurately, I was intrigued, (even more accurately, irritated) by the response of the Pinellas School Board.
That response was, in a nutshell "We already have that solution available if a teacher wants it. Prove to us that your ideas will work". The problem with that response: Hey, Pinellas schools you have an educational crisis on your hands. In all 14 of those schools, mostly in poor or poorer districts, you have reading scores that have declined since 2006 and in only three are they starting to climb. This is a disaster and is reflected in horrible graduation rates for everyone. And, you want a citizen's group to justify their suggestion to you? Absurd.
Consider this: 38 churches, synagogues and mosques join together to address a problem. They offer local community support, parental support, citizen support, spiritual support. The members do what "they" always call for: individual and community involvement. They propose a specific solution a program called "Direct Instruction". They even visit two cities where it has been used. Better yet, they reported that the National Institute for Direct Instruction has agreed to underwrite a pilot program in one school for three years.
Some school board and administrators' response: we already have it available if a teacher wants to use it; we aren't certain that it's a good thing for all schools; it's not good for all kids; all kids don't need it; there are real issues with pushing programs on schools. Well, maybe these citizens have real problems with pushing systematic failure on students. As Rev. Robert Ward, pastor of Mount Moriah Baptist Church so succinctly put it: the schools are "failing horrendously".
The question is not what FAST is going to do about it. It has a solution. The question is what, Pinellas School District, are YOU going to do about it. Perhaps the news article omitted the schools' solution other than the bit, oh, teachers can use it if they see fit. This is not about teachers deciding. This is about an administration which has a failing system. To do nothing and accept no alternatives to doing the same thing the district has been doing is part of the definition of stupidity.
To define that a little better, consider that the state, according to the Times, has a standard that 79 per cent of third graders read at their level or above. Most of the schools mentioned are at 50 per cent or lower and most declining in performance. As I pointed out several weeks ago, standards such as 79 per cent, even if achieved, only show that 21 per cent aren't making it. This is compounded every year. And, it is reflected in graduation rates.
How can you graduate from high school when you cannot read proficiently? How can you progress, grade to grade, without reading? Think of how isolated students become when they can't keep up. It's not unlike not being in a foreign country and not speaking the language. Think about the discipline problems.
Math is a progressive series of learning steps. If you do not master each step, the next step becomes more difficult because you are struggling to master two steps, then three and so forth. Reading is even more step oriented and vital. There is not a single occupation or activity today where reading is not important. If schools can't teach reading, they aren't real schools.
I congratulate FAST and its participating citizens. They are addressing a problem. The solution may not be in the one program, Direct Instruction. And, maybe such a program is not the cure-all. However, if there are other solutions, or even other problems (I can think of many), the school administration should speak out. FAST is not the enemy or the opponent. It is an ally. It is not running the system and it is not the one responsible for solutions. But, if the school board and the administration don't have better answers than they indicated, they should get out of the way.