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.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Home to Prison Pipeline Part III


The Idea of a "School to Prison Pipeline" should be properly called what it is, a "Home to Prison Pipeline"

Are teachers and school staff really the reason why so many students are on the so-called "School to Prison Pipeline?"  As I've pointed out here and here, I don't believe so.  Some students come to school looking for trouble and are not interested whatsoever in school--and often these same students attack fellow students,  teachers, and staff.  And when appropriate discipline is meted out, like in this horrific case from Mobile where two students attacked a teacher with brass knuckles, there are some who still cling to the naive belief that this is somehow the school's fault.  It is absolutely ridiculous.  Excellent writer Thomas Sowell captures much of the problem in today's well written piece from Town-Hall

Locally-we had a student in February that we did not expel, we simply shuffled him to another school, a charter school, after he had amassed more than 50 referrals!  Disrespect, defiance, profanity, classroom disruptions, failure to follow directions, cussing at a teacher, calling the teacher a Mother- F%^&#@er, collecting a couple of arrests for shoplifting, and we still have him in school.  Are we putting him on a pipeline to prison?  Or are we overcompensating and bending over like circus contortionists to not do what we should have done with this student--EXPEL HIM!  Bending over backwards for disruptive, abusive, and dangerous students does nobody any good whatsoever, and simply confirms the fears that many parents harbor as they pull their own kids out of our schools to shelter them from this abusive conduct and toxic environments like this.  And then  there are the teachers that we ask to take this abuse- it is not right, and they don't deserve it, and if we don't confront these issues with strong discipline-we won't have anybody willing to teach in some schools!

Everyone should read this expose that appeared in Townhall last October, it really sets the table on the issue nobody wants to talk about.

And then watch this video from Baltimore ABC 2 News and hear the tragic, heart-wrenching story of teacher Jeff Slattery and what happened to him.

And then look at this example from earlier this month in Santa Monica. A well respected wrestling coach discovered a student with drugs and a weapon, and the student attacked him.  the coach subdued the student using wrestling, and the superintendent of the district attacked the coach's actions and suspended this employee.  There was such a huge backlash to the scapegoating of this coach that even the liberal LA Times sided with the coach and rightfully excoriated this weakling superintendent of schools out there.  (Coach Black has been reinstated)

Or, how about this teacher, simply trying to get a trouble student to leave class, and he gets attacked by the student, puched, and kicked.  [ NOTE---I do not endorse nor do I agree with everything the presenter in this video espouses after the video clip, these are HIS opinions, not mine]

Now, if you have the stomach, watch this selection of  various videos from around the internet of students misbehaving badly in class.  Should school employees and other students have to tolerate this sort of behavior?  No way!

The uncomfortable fact of the matter is that schools must not hide the problems by not disciplining students to lower report-able incident numbers and thereby  sweeping this problem under the rug, as some feel Cincinnati, Ohio, and several districts in Georgia have done.

Are we doing this here locally?  We've stopped reporting the incidents to the Board on the monthly meeting agenda, and at last month's meeting several board members "golf-clapped" when the superintendent announced there "were no student discipline issues to report on the agenda!"  (that's because the thirty or so items that used to be called expulsions are now called "placement changes"-- and the board simply receives a list of these without the background info.  But these are still serious infractions, drugs, fighting, violence. weapons.)  I didn't clap because I know there were/are plenty of discipline issues--and many are going unpunished, or not punished severely enough--to appease certain folks who think we target minority students for discipline in a disparate manner, which is absolute, 100% complete garbage that is not true!

Strong consistent and colorblind discipline needs to be applied to keep students, teachers, and staff safe, and political correctness needs to be taken out of this mix, otherwise the public school system will implode.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Supreme Court Ruling Reaffirms Equal Rights

The Supreme Court has spoken and the ruling from yesterday on the case from Michigan will have ripple effects around the country for years to come.  Almost twenty years ago the voters of California voted for Prop 209 to eliminate race-based criteria for admission to State Universities funded with taxpayer dollars.  Many attempts have been made to undo prop 209, however they have not been successful;  In California, the passage of 209 served to expand and increase the diversity of the university system there--and that's the point, isn't it?  A recent bill to repeal 209 in California was derailed in large part due to the Asian community joining forces with conservatives (still can't believe Huffington post covered this, must have been painful for them.....) to defeat the measure.

 Like it or not, merit should be the deciding factor in admissions decisions to publicly funded schools , not artificial quotas imposed upon the process to appease special interest groups.  At private colleges, they can continue preference programs, and I'm sure they will.  But with taxpayer funded colleges, admissions should be colorblind and based upon merit; that's the way the Constitution would have it, and I'm thankful that's the way the Supreme Court sees this issue as well.  Thank God for Antonin Scalia on this court!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Home to Prison Pipeline, Part II

When a school bus driver is trying to do his job and get students to line up in an orderly fashion, and parents storm the bus, terrifying students on the bus, and begin to beat the driver--is this horrific behavior the school's fault?  Look at this story from Palm Beach County Yesterday.  The example set by parents here, in front of elementary school students, I mean who can calculate the damage this does and the terrible example this sets for their own kids?

We know many students of all ethnicities live in dysfunctional environments, and this condition manifests itself sometimes into behaviors like this from two students in Panama City who have been arrested and will be charged.  Is the school responsible for this-or is the allowing of this behavior another example of the home to prison pipeline?

Or what about this riot from Akron Ohio.  School officials there will be suspending and or expelling those students(many of whom were arrested in a massive brawl that erupted at their school).  Will this be inaccurately labeled an over-reaction, or worse, an example of the "school to prison pipeline for these youth?"  Or, is there another more difficult explanation that has something to do with their home-lives? You can see the twitter posts of the riot in this article.

Or what about these students arrested at school for fighting and marijuana possession--Is this the school's fault? Should the school just give these students a pass on this?

What about these six students that skipped school yesterday and broke into a house, destroying TVs and other valuables--is this the school's fault these students skipped school and did this?  Really?  Is this a "school to prison pipeline?"  Or are these simply students making terrible decisions and paying a price for these choices?

If a student like this one called a bomb threat in to my kid's school, I'd expect them to be arrested for this-wouldn't you?  Or is this just a "school to prison pipeline" school over-reacting?

What about when someone  walks into a classroom and knocks another student unconscious and steals a cell-phone?  Does that warrant an arrest?  Or should they have proposed an after-school detention session for these youths...

It's time to stop the blame shifting and name calling directed at well meaning, well intentioned public school systems and employees who in the vast majority of instances are simply trying to do their jobs to the best of their abilities to help students.  And when terrible, deplorable conduct like the Akron riots happen-employees that rightly did their jobs and police that rightly did their jobs--is it really okay to point a finger at these folks and say they "caused" this, and are a part of a "school to prison pipeline?"   I think anyone who thinks like that and thinks incidents like these and many others too numerous to count are the fault of the school systems exclusively-these folks have it badly wrong.

It's a lot like a recent documentary on the mistreatment of water park Orcas I watched on CNN.  I'm not comparing kids to Orcas-obviously students are humans and Orcas are animals (whales);  however there are some eerie similarities that can be discerned in the way incidents are explained and who gets blamed.

The corporate big-wigs at the water parks, instead of acknowledging the issue and saying "Yes, this was an unprovoked attack by a Killer Whale on a Trainer"  attempt to do everything possible to not face facts.  And, in the process they apparently blame the trainer for the accident which caused her to lose her life. According to this CNN Documentary, apparently the water parks also failed to acknowledge that the one violent whale, in particular, has now killed two humans and severely injured another.  Is there a pattern there?

Not the whale's fault is the answer.

When we as public school policymakers and advocates do not speak up and refute mis-truths by some entities about why many students are arrested when these same students commit crimes at school, are we not in essence like the water park execs? are we blaming the trainers(employees, teachers, staff, bus drivers)?  Guess what-- other "trainers" are watching and if they are not supported,  there won't be any more trainers or water parks.

Is College a Ripoff?

This recent article in the Economist points to an issue that many have known for a long time but few will speak about.  1.  College is not for everybody  2.  Choose carefully what you study and how much you borrow to pay for it  and 3.  Choose carefully where you plan to attend.  Otherwise, you might find that you were better off not going to college at all.  Actually, you might find that you are more than $100K worse-off than someone who opted to skip college, start working, and start investing in modest vehicles like US Treasury Bonds.  From the article

"What is not in doubt is that the cost of university per student has risen by almost five times the rate of inflation since 1983, and graduate salaries have been flat for much of the past decade. Student debt has grown so large that it stops many young people from buying houses, starting businesses or having children. Those who borrowed for a bachelor’s degree granted in 2012 owe an average of $29,400. The Project on Student Debt, a non-profit, says that 15% of borrowers default within three years of entering repayment. At for-profit colleges the rate is 22%. Glenn Reynolds, a law professor and author of “The Higher Education Bubble”, writes of graduates who “may wind up living in their parents’ basements until they are old enough to collect Social Security."

Meanwhile, the Federal Government just keeps giving out student loans (your tax dollars) to anyone and everyone who wants them, regardless of whether or not such students even belong at college .  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Home to Prison Pipeline, Part I

Over the last several months in the Escambia County School District we have had speakers at our meetings that have chastised us for being a part of a "school to prison pipeline" At the last meeting, we had one very polite gentleman smile as he said he was concerned and did not want the Escambia County School District to be the "Entree before Prison" I've been thinking a lot about these various comments and looking into different reasons for what some claim to be our "school to prison pipeline" But I believe that term is inaccurate, disingenuous, and inflammatory. After all, we have students for 7 hours a day, less than a third of the day. We don't have them on weekends, we don't have students over the summer. So is it really a "School to Prison Pipeline?" or, is a more accurate description a "home to prison pipeline?" I'm going with the latter. The speakers who have been showing up at our meetings pointing fingers never discuss the home lives many of these students have, and how these dysfunctional environments are the real culprit--not the schools. The schools are being scapegoated. If you come to our school to learn, you will get an education, you will be given the opportunity to succeed, you will get what you need to be successful-as these students did that we met last week at the student of the year awards. We don't select students that are minorities and set out to treat them differently, more harshly. That is hogwash and anyone who thinks that needs to look first at facts,

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why Not Pensacola? Big Ideas To Engage Communities and Change Direction

Friday morning at the School Board Workshop, I brought forward two big ideas, one for engaging the community and one for changing the direction of some students' lives. Watch the recording of the video to see the reactions to these ideas. I was surprised that my idea for an intramural basketball league did not receive more support. I simply believe we need to scale up what Oakcrest Elementary school locally is already doing quite successfully. Having an afterschool basketball league at some of the most poverty stricken elementary schools in our district would not cost much, and my idea is to do what many districts all around the country are already doing. And I brought examples from other districts. The response I received from some board members was that they would not want us to compete too heavily with existing church leagues, and that these church leagues already provide what is necessary with respect to basketball. My retort to that is simply this: My kids played basketball in the upward program at Olive and Hillcrest-however this participation required driving to practice, paying fees, and driving to games every Saturday. And I was happy to do all of this but many of the families in these inner-city schools won't/can't make that kind of commitment, therefore their children won't participate. People that are out of touch don't get this, though. Too bad we can't be open minded and at least try this.... The second big idea I brought (for the second time now, first time was last year) was to establish a boarding school to serve the children that are most at-risk in our community due to generational poverty and dysfunctional home-lives. This proposal I brought received a ho-hum reception, with a full measure of reasons why it would be tough to do it here in Pensacola. The point I tried to reiterate over an over was this same idea is being done in other places, why not Pensacola? They are opening a SEED public charter boarding school in Miami this year--why not Pensacola? There is one in Baltimore, one in DC-Why not Pensacola? They are doing this in other places, why not Pensacola Someone has to take bold stances and lead on these issues and it is sad when people simply brush aside ideas that can make a difference in the lives of children, saying this is too expensive, or we can't do this, or some church is doing this already, so that box is checked. Someone has to take ownership and lead, but no one who has the authority or capacity to do so, sadly, appears willing to step up and fill this leadership vacuum. Status Quo rules the day and we wonder why things don't change.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Public School Success!

One of the most uplifting and inspiring gatherings I attend yearly is the ECCPTA Student of the Year Celebration. This year, two students (among the many incredible honorees) stood out. One non-English speaking Middle Schooler arrived 2 years ago from Vietnam. She applied diligent effort in her studies and now speaks English, is one of the leaders in her class, and is making top scores on the FCAT! Another student, arriving here only 1 ½ years ago with very limited English skill (his parents sent him from Syria)—has exceeded all expectations, making a (6) on FCAT Writes-the highest score ever recorded at Workman Middle School! The progress these two students have made, given the significant obstacles they have overcome, is a testament to their hard work and also to their families and the teachers and staff of the Escambia County Public schools they attend. These students prove the reality most of us understand about our schools: Whatever your circumstances- if you come to our schools set upon learning, behave, work hard, and apply yourself, you will receive the resources necessary to succeed. These two students mentioned above are living proof of this!

Bossy Kindergarten?

Recently I posted this response to the issue of pre-K suspensions. I found it difficult to imagine what a 3 or 4 year old student would have to do to be kicked out of a pre-K class. I recently received the statistics above regarding Kindergarten suspensions over the last 9-year period in the Escambia County School District. Again I have to scratch my head and ask what sorts of things must these 5 year olds be doing to get kicked out of kindergarten? I've requested information from both the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and the Director of Elementary Education on what specific infractions would result in a Kindergarten student being kicked out of school. I have not received a response to my email request on this. I'd really also like to know how many of the kindergarten students that were kicked out had participated in one of the VPK programs offered in the community? To me, that would be good information to know. when I hear back on my response I'll ask that question, too.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Feds Candy Crackdown, Part IV

At the NSBA 2014 conference, one of the issues that I wanted to learn more about was the issue of Federal Regulation of what snacks can be sold in schools.  At this lecture, Julie Brewer from the USDA gave a presentation about changes to the snacks that can be offered in schools under the interim final rule: nutritional standards for all foods sold in school.  This rule stems from the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.

I have been vocal in my opposition to the increasing levels of Federal Intervention in schools, and in particular with respect to this topic, which I discussed here, here, and here.

What right does the Federal Government have to tell any school what foods it can sell via fundraisers outside of the lunchroom and in times other than lunch periods?  I'm amazed at the willingness of so many to just go along with this.  Two important issues came out of this conference.

1.  According to Julie Brewer from USDA--States can implement their own fundraiser exemptions, and as an example one Board Member in attendance from Wyoming stated that her state had implemented a "no more than five non-compliant fundraisers per school per year policy"

What is the OCR?

I was fortunate during this weekend's NSBA Conference in New Orleans to be able to attend a lecture on the history of the Federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) The seminar was presented by several attorneys from the Washington DC Law Firm   Hogan Lovells.  The chief presenter was Mr. John Borkowski, a pratner with Hogan Lovells.

I take a keen interest in this session because . We have been working with OCR in Escambia County for a number of years to address concerns about allegations that the way we discipline minority students in our district is discriminatory--which is not true.  We have also recently been accused of being a party to litigation over discipline issues, which is also untrue.

The presentation at NSBA gave a brief history of the OCR, an entity created by the passage of the civil rights act of 1964.  OCR investigates discrimination complaints lodged against recipients of federal program funds. (including K12 systems and colleges and universities) Such complaints are often based upon claims of discrimination due to someone's race, gender, gender identity, and/or disability.

OCR is housed in the Federal Department of Education. OCR is mandated by statute to review ALL complaints that it receives ( but not necessarily conduct an investigation of all complaints )

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Thomas Friedman to NSBA Conference 2014: The Flat World is Becoming Hyper-connected

Thomas Friedman, the author of 2004's "The World is Flat" blew the NSBA general assembly away this morning with some keen insight and anecdotes about the way our planet is becoming not only flatter, but also hyper-connected with amazing  technology, automation, and software.

He knows things are changing, but will we keep up?

These changing technologies will lead to great opportunities for creative entrepreneurs, but simultaneously these will lead to great challenges for workers, particularly those of average skill who do rote, repetitive tasks and who are paid well.

Friedman stated "high wage, average skill jobs will disappear and non-routine local jobs if not performed creatively are in jeopardy."

Friedman believes and stated that for these workers "Average is officially Over!"--meaning that lazy, under skilled, non-motivated workers will be left behind in the new world of high technology, automation, and outsourcing.  "There is no bottom-level jobs that high school dropouts will be able to go to" he stated.

"Things are so incredibly different now than just a decade ago," Friedman remarked, that "Facebook didn't exist, big data was a rapper, skype was a typo, and the cloud was something in the sky!"

Thursday, April 3, 2014

There is No Discrimination Lawsuit

At the last regular school board meeting several accusations were flung around by members of the community and by various social justice organizations.  I documented some of what was said here.

One recurring issue that was thrown out at the meeting by a music director from a local church and also by a former employee of the SPLC was that the district was engaged in litigation for discriminatory practices.

There is no class-action discrimination lawsuit against the school board for disparate disciplinary procedures currently.

Our attorney set the record straight at the meeting, and also provided a timeline regarding what has transpired with respect to these allegations.

Here are the facts:  SPLC called the Office of Civil Rights and lodged a complaint against the ECSD for disciplinary practices it felt had a negative, disparate impact on minority students.  The OCR has requested data, has come to our district and had several productive meetings, but have thus far not cited us for anything.

Now, SPLC and others wish they would find some wrongdoing, anything they could hang their hat on, but this has not happened. SPLC tried in 2012 to arm-twist us into voluntarily accepting an agreement like this one, an outrageous and ridiculous agreement that was rightly rejected by the board, superintendent and district on advise of counsel.

In January, the SPLC urged us to immediately follow guidelines issued from DOJ that essentially asked us to treat some students in a preferential manner when doling out discipline, so as not to overly suspend too many minorities.  Again, so far as I know, this absurd, ridiculous request has been rejected as well.  We don't need discipline quotas in school--it appears that's what Washington DC wants us to do.

Equal rights means we treat students equally, and mete out discipline equally based on one set of standards applicable to all.  Equal rights does not mean we continue to bend over backwards like circus clowns  to appease Eric Holder, the DOJ, special interests, and people that want to hurl accusations at us and accuse us of things we do not do, namely treat minorities with an extra heavy hand.

I have requested detailed data on how many referrals it takes to get suspended around here in the ECSD, and I requested if be broken out by race, gender, age, and infraction.  These folks who love to throw rocks are going to see that in this district the opposite of what they think is happening is actually what is occurring;  we are bending over backwards to keep minorities in school--in some instances giving as many as 39 discipline referrals out before we finally expel kids.

Data that is factual cannot be refuted, and the truth will set you free.