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.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

School Choice-The Catalyst for Saving The American Public School System

I met Dr. Ben Scafidi, the co-author of the study pictured on the right, in Milwaukee a few months back at a conference on School Choice.  Every parent and policy-maker in American Public education should read his report-it’s an eye-opener.   (The electronic version can be found here.)

Dr. Scafidi’s presentation on School Choice blew the lid off of the conference room, a perfect mix of credibility and humor.  His intelligence, passion, and command of the subjects of economics, statistics, and school choice were clearly evident in his presentation.
Additionally, he was extremely gracious as he fielded individual questions from many conference participants (myself included) long after his portion of the presentation had ended—something we all appreciated.

The research paper Scafidi wrote focused on the detailed results of a parent survey about why these same parents chose to send their students to private schools over public schools.  As a sitting school board member on the front lines of the business of education, this presentation confirmed many of the suspicions I harbored about why parents choose to send their students to one particular school over another.    

From the report:

“Beyond their long-time concern about the quality of the education their children are receiving in public schools, parents are as, or even more, concerned that children in America are facing a plethora of social and cultural challenges that can have a significant negative impact on their lives and futures. As a result, an increasing number of parents are seeking to enroll their students in private schools and are taking advantage of tax-credit scholarship and voucher programs where
available.  Based on the results of the 2013 GOAL Scholarship Parent Survey, GOAL scholarship parents had many reasons for choosing a private school for the K–12 education of their children. The top five reasons why those families chose a private school were all related to a safe school climate and effective classroom management, including better student discipline…..The surveyed parents
placed low emphasis on the results of standardized test scores.”

My takeaway as a public school policymaker:  We must improve or we will be gone, we will cease to exist 

in the next two to three decades—because parents want choice---- and changes are coming either of our own doing or as legislative mandates from above us.

 Parents who are engaged will find the very best schools they can for their children. These parents are concerned about safety and school climate and discipline---- if public schools are to survive we as the leaders of public schools must provide real choice options to parents and we must address their concerns regarding safety and discipline.
Otherwise-these parents will continue to leave.

We can’t and shouldn’t say we’re “for school choice” while actively restricting choice options by capping popular programs like magnet schools. 

We can’t and shouldn’t say we’re “for school choice” while actively working to restrict the growth of proven charter schools in our district.

We can’t and shouldn’t say we’re “for school choice” while actively working to restrict the growth of successful and effective opportunity scholarship programs.

We can’t and shouldn’t say we’re “for school choice” while we make reform decisions in large part based upon how they will impact “our existing schools”—instead of how they can provide better opportunities to students and parents.

We MUST eliminate the political correctness in our discipline strategies and do whatever it takes to maintain orderly classrooms and safer facilities—even if some “groups” are critical; these two concerns, safety and classroom discipline, evidenced in the survey responses, are the biggest factors that are driving parents away from public schools and toward private schools or home school as our society continues to change for the worse.  We have to make schools safer and we have to convince parents that our schools are safe.
We must do these things.   We have to improve, innovate, and evolve or else we as the American Public School System as we know it today will go extinct.


Alice said...

Well, Jeff, start packing. Every day I'm alive, I see more and more evidence that our schools will not improve, just the opposite in fact.

Let's see. According to the results of the survey, parents choose private schools for better discipline and classroom management. So where in our system are discipline and classroom management such big problems. In our middle- and high-school classrooms, it's that 'ole "regular" classroom, the classroom where the median reading level is not likely to be above 2, the classroom where absenteeism is high, the classroom where virtually every student in the school with a serious discipline issue is to be found, the classroom where the student is least likely to have a textbook, the classroom where the student is most likely not to have strong family support, the classroom where the student is most likely to have mental and emotional issues, and the classroom where many of the students have already given up and simply no longer care.

And, oh, yes. The teachers. One would think, with all these challenges, the teachers would be the most skilled, the most capable of dealing with the terrible issues the students present. But, no. After all, who is his or her right mind would want daily to face these almost insurmountable challenges. The new teacher, of course, the one with not enough seniority to teach honor students.
Jeff, this school system will never improve because we don't have the courage to improve it. We don't have the courage to put aside our prejudices and opinions and look at facts. And if you have a problem believing that statement, just consider the board's response to my viewpoint. Every student in our system has a textbook for every class. I simply don't know what I'm talking about. Really???

Alice said...

Oops! Forgot one. Parents also want a "safer school climate" (silly old parents). Our superintendent has said that our schools are safe, that we have a "secure lockdown system." Really? ECSD seemed quite proud of the grant that helped to secure our system against the dreaded scourge of pot while seemingly ignoring the reality of students' bringing knives and guns into the schools. At least in the five years I taught in this system, not one student was checked with a metal detector, even though posted signs warned students of such a possibility.

Do you doubt that students bring guns and knives into school, hiding them quite effectively in the enormous backpacks most of them carry or in the lockers that are almost never checked? Many of our schools are wide open, with virtually no security. Schools such as PHS and EHS are virtually in the middle of gang territory. We know we have gangs in our schools, and I know for a fact I had gang members in my classes. (I made it a point to learn the signs I frequently intercepted in my classes and the graffiti that would fill my classroom board from time to time.)

What about the "secure" lockdown system? In the two high schools where I taught, teachers had to have keys to their classrooms in order to lock them. Substitute teachers don't have keys, nor do teachers who have lost their keys or had them stolen (as I did) and can't pay the $200 fee to have a new key issued. During a lockdown, we were told to look around to see if another teacher needed us to lock a door, not an easy task should one be facing an AK47 at the time.

Then, too, there are all those annoying old trailers, whose doors are practically falling off, but they're generally positioned quite far from the main building, so maybe they don't count.

Oh, but we do have some security. There's a guard who requires one to register before entering the school district building. And there is one district building that stays locked, one where visitors must be buzzed in, the building where employees get their ID badges. Now there's a "safe climate"!

Jeff, do you really think we can improve our school system?

Jeff Bergosh said...

There are many within this district that are out of touch, no question. I may be one of them since it has been almost 20 years since I taught a third-grade class. But I am a believer, I believe we can fix the schools if we have the courage to remove the bad apple, bad seed discipline nightmares instead of shuffling them around and cow-towing to them at the expense of the good kids that are in our schools to learn. Also, we have to have the courage to have some difficult conversations about the loss of fathers in some segments of our population, the direct result of which is tremendous discipline issues, high incarceration rates disproportionately affecting these same groups, and a reliance on government assistance for every need which is economically unsustainable. We can improve the schools, but is starts with a reality check and not acquiescing to the loud voices in the room who accept no blame whatever for the predicament which these same individuals have placed themselves in, via poor life choices.