I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Adding Some Planks to the FSBA Platform for 2012-2013

The school board briefly touched on the FSBA Legislative Platform at our most recent workshop.  The platform is the framework of general beliefs of the organization that the membership votes on, and that is eventually disseminated to members and legislators throughout the state.
In general, I am in agreement with most of the document. My key areas of disagreement, which I discussed briefly at the last workshop, are these two issues:
1.        The support for the expansion of federally funded VPK for 3 and 4 year olds.  My issue is twofold with this one.  First, I want less Government control over local decisions, to include preschool.  Asking for more money equals asking for more Federal Government top-down, underfunded mandates.  Second, from the studies I have read, achievement among similarly situated students who attended VPK before kindergarten when compared to students who did not attend VPK cannot be distinguished once these students all reach third grade.  Any positive benefits are statistically negligible.  As I said in the meeting, it is more of a jobs program, and therefore will not be touched by policymakers-regardless of the results.  My rhetorical question, though, is this:   if it is statistically neutral, why are we spending billions per year of taxpayer monies funding it?  And why, therefore, should FSBA be clamoring for more of this federal spending?  As I mentioned, it is a huge job generator nationwide, and because it “seems” like it should be beneficial, people just naturally assume it to be—like lowering class sizes and increasing funding as drivers of better public school performance.  (Seems like it ought to work, so let’s push for more of it!)

2.       The idea of taxing internet sales—I’m extremely leery of this one, to put it mildly.  First off-I kind of like having a zero-tax shopping alternative, that being the internet.  Secondly, from a business standpoint, asking a company that is based in Vermont to know all the nuanced local taxing regulations of every state and municipality in the USA is a lot to ask.  It will be extremely burdensome and expensive to some of these internet companies, and may push some into insolvency or non-compliance.  Secondly, the statement that “brick and mortar local companies can’t compete, and they have to pay taxes!” is only partially right.  For one thing, a local “brick and mortar” retail store consumes local government services, i.e. the employees of such stores use our schools, roads, emergency services, social services, etc.  Customers of these “brick and mortar” retailers use our roads, sidewalks, and highways—internet customers do not.  These brick and mortar local employees are paid lower salaries than many (most) other industries.  An internet retailer uses no local services, yet has a hand in employing local workers via the delivery services utilized to deliver their products.  It is a complex issue—but I lean strongly toward remaining status quo on this one…. 
With the exception of these two items, I am in general agreement with most of the rest of this platform.  Over the next few days we have been asked to add some of our own ideas for consideration as additions to the platform.  I brought up one big one during last Wednesday’s meeting, that met with unanimous support. 
1.        No Texting and Driving:

We must unite behind the idea of a stiff penalty for texting and driving.  In other states, most recently Alabama and California, the laws have been enacted.  Texting and driving is causing thousands of accidents and a staggering number of deaths and injuries throughout our state yearly—and we simply must not ignore it any more.

Everyone in the room seemed to agree that adding a platform position for the banning of texting and driving would be beneficial to students and school districts.

One other platform position I will add is the following:

        Compare Schools and Districts to Similar Districts Demographically Statewide:
Other states, most notably California, are already doing this and we should be as well.  As a school board member in one of the largest, most poverty stricken and crime-ridden districts statewide, I’m tired of being compared to homogeneous, wealthy, and low-crime county school districts like Santa Rosa and St. Johns.  Group and compare our schools and districts more fairly based upon a series of metrics which indicate and account for social blight and poverty. Perhaps we should compare districts based upon all the traditional metrics as well as the following:
a.       percentages of Free and reduced lunch populations: (Compare schools that have 90% free lunch students to other schools that have a 90% free lunch demographic—so the comparisons can be levelized)
b.      socioeconomically  disadvantaged population: ( where a student comes from a single parent household or a household where neither parent has a H.S. Diploma or the family lives below the federally established poverty level
c.        Ethnically Diverse Districts: (Compare similarly situated districts, with respect to ethnic diversity, instead of comparing all white districts to districts that are made up of large percentages of multiple ethnicities.
d.      Add a county crime level metric to the comparisons, if possible (areas of high crime may have impacts socially that affect public schools acutely more than communities where crime rates are lower)


Alice Sohn said...

Study after study has concluded that poverty can seriously affect a child's ability to succeed in school, especially when the family is dysfunctional. Rates of serious emotional and physical abuse, neglect and abandonment, drug and alcohol addiction are much higher. Children of poverty are much more likely to live with only one parent or other relative, to have a parent or close friend arrested or killed, to become victims of violence themselves, or to have other traumatic childhood experiences. Their home is often chaotic, the children themselves more likely to live in fear. It is not just the United States where the poverty gap exists. The Program for International Assessment recently completed a study of the 2009 reading scores of high-school students in both the United States and in all thirteen of the other countries whose students outperform ours. In every one of these countries, students with the lowest incomes earned scores significantly lower than their more affluent peers. The effects of poverty on student performance have been so well documented that we're no longer looking at a theory; we're dealing with facts. Unless we accept the facts and learn to deal with them, our schools will continue to fail. Administrators and school officials who continue to say that poverty doesn't matter, when we know absolutely that it does, do a huge disservice not only to our children but also to our teachers, who are such easy scapegoats, and to our future as a community.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Alice, I appreciate your comment and I do not disagree with you; My issue is that it is not Poverty, especially poverty where parents are at home with time on their hands waiting for their government assistance check, it is not modern poverty which holds back parents from helping their children succeed at school. It is laziness in many. Adds and a predisposition to blame schools, teachers, and others for poor academic performance. Today's poverty, in many instances, should lead to better outcomes for kids from poverty--simply because these parents are rich in today's most valuable commodity---time! Unfortunately people are using poverty as an excuse for poor academics and poor. Shavuot--when poverty, in and of itself and especially in our generous nanny-state, is responsible for neither. (apparently, I'm told, it is in poor form to say this, even though many know it to be true)

Alice Sohn said...

Thanks for your response, Jeff. Please think again about your belief that "in many instances "poverty ...should lead to better outcomes for kids from poverty." First, remember that most black families living in poverty are matriarchal. And from my fifteen years of getting to know my daughter's black friends and their families, I know that the mothers of these families often hold down two jobs just to survive. They don't have that "valuable commodity" of time. Perhaps the biggest reason, however, is they do not feel welcome at school.
As a volunteer at Hallmark, Sheree' Cagle, the principal, assured me that parents felt comfortable coming to the school. But I had observed, time and time again, the staff making fun of the parents and teachers talking down to them. And I knew from talking with them and visiting in their homes that they do not feel welcome.

At Escambia High School where I taught for four years, the woman visitors first saw was one of the rudest people I had ever encountered, not only to teachers but also to parents. During "FCAT night," when parents were invited to an evening to learn ways to help their children make better scores,the teachers spoke as though they there were addressing a group of experts. I doubt even one family member understood the information.

And here, perhaps,is the greatest reason. When families, generation after generation, live in soul-sucking poverty, they lose hope. They have no "voice," no way to use words to achieve results. What could they possibly do to help their children in school?

The "suspension thing" also affects families. Beginning the moment they walk into school,black children are often in trouble for their dress, their loud voices, their talking in class. How do you suppose black parents feel about school when their children are suspended for actions that are part of their culture? Or when their children come home telling them about the teacher who said, "You'll never amount to anything."

Jeff, your comment about "our generous nanny-state" indicates a lack of understanding. If government aid is so generous, why are these families living in squalor or living with another family or two to make ends meet? Why do most of them wait and wait for a city bus to take them to work?
Jeff, thank you for this blog. You must spend hours and hours on it, but it's truly informative, and I do appreciate your hard work (even when I disagree with you).

Jeff Bergosh said...


Thanks for your thoughtful response. I really try to stay away from talking race specifically, because I think if you look at a poverty stricken school, you will have representation of all races, including white, black, latino, asian, and multi-racial. My issue with poverty being used as the reason for lackluster performance academically by students from poverty is that I truly believe those in poverty today have more time than those who lived in poverty in previous generations. In the past, there were not so many different government entitlements that the poor could draw upon--these programs have ballooned over the last 40 years and are at all-time highs today. So many of these issues that are systemmic today are indirectly a result of the government bungling in a futile attempt to "help" and the dissolution of the American family is another area where government has failed; Look no further than the explosion of out-of wedlock birthrates, by race, from 1960-2010 and you will see just how much damage the government has done by disincentivizing marriage; All this leads us to where we are today-with never before seen levels of people reliant on the government for food, housing, healthcare, and subsitence money. This government intrusion and social engineering has indirectly harmed the American public school system by creating a class of individuals that are so reliant on government to fulfill their every need that these folks have become apathetic. Poverty has become generational in some instances, and this poverty is used as the "excuse" for bad behavior and a lack of will to learn by some students. I say all of this just to say this-it does not matter if you are rich or poor, white, black, asian, hispanic, or other--we should not have to have a series of different rules that apply to students based upon social factors that result from their social status. We should and do have one set of expectations in terms of Academics and Behavior--and poverty can't be used as an excuse by anyone, in this country, for why junior doesn't do his homework or sit still and show respect to his teacher. One standard for all and anyone who demands a different set of rules and allowances for "some" based upon their social status--well I just will never subscribe to that position----ever. I grew up dirt poor--dirt poor such that I lived in a trailer and at one point my dining room table was a trunk and my chair was a stack of phonebooks. My parents worked five jobs between them and had "zero" time but still demanded we perform in school and attend Church on Sundays and be respectful of school officials and teachers. It was called being good parents despite the circumstances--something that is lacking in many parents today. My first years of college I donated plasma regularly and lived off ramen and bananas and worked 40 hours a week waiting tables and bartending paying my own way through school--as did a lot of other collegs students I know.We didn't walk around with chips on our shoulders looking to assign blame; I guess it's just easier for some to excuse bad behavior today by saying it's "poverty" or some other social circumstance explanation. Either way, it doesn't hold water in my opinion. Alice, don't be so quick to let them off the hook....