Here is the ugly truth about low performing schools in parts of Escambia County….
We have a community problem and this is dragging down the performance of our local public schools.
I will say it again. We have a community problem that is dragging down the performance of our local public schools.
Everybody knows it, nobody discusses it in depth, and we do not have the economic resources to extinguish this fire completely. We use half-measures and extreme political correctness to dance around touchy subjects. This approach is getting us nowhere.
Think about this---What if someone made this comment to you straight-faced: “Doctors and Hospitals in Pensacola must be terrible, as we have the highest levels of obesity, smoking, early mortality, and disability claimants of just about any community in Florida. We need to fix these deficient Hospitals in Pensacola because Doctors and Hospitals in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Cambridge, Massachusetts are so much better! Minneapolis and Cambridge have the healthiest populations in the country, year over year, so this illustrates the fact their Hospitals and Doctors are much more professional and better trained than our Doctors here! Our doctors need to be more professional like those doctors up north so our community will be healthier!”
What about this one:
“These Cops around here are terrible! Look at how high the crime rate is here compared to Beverly Hills. I wish these cops around here had the same skill, training and professionalism as those cops in Beverly Hills, so we could have a peaceful, safe, low-crime community like Beverly Hills!”
Of course it is.
And it is just as ridiculous to hear rubes and simpletons claim we in Escambia County public education are abysmal failures, because we’re not as high-performing as Santa Rosa County or St. Johns County, or some other high performing district.
Judging all teachers and an entire school system by the outcomes and outputs of small dysfunctional populations they serve is no more ridiculous than the two previous examples about cops and doctors. We need students and parents to buy-in! Education requires participation.
Here are the real problems….
We have entire segments of the population that live in absolute, utter dysfunction. In many areas it becomes multi-generational, the new normal. We have poverty that is extreme-but that in and of itself is not the driver of the problems. Poverty exacerbates the dysfunction. We have people moving every six weeks to out-run landlords, gaming the entitlement system, having children out of wedlock to increase their welfare benefit checks, refusing to work, “shopping” with their EBT cards for “friends” taking $.50 cents on the dollar to buy liquor, cigarettes, or drugs, Selling drugs for money, selling themselves for money, and mistreating their own children. Crime rates soar in these communities, and entire neighborhoods fall into blight. We have children being raised by relatives because BOTH parents are incarcerated; we had 6,000 child abuse reports last year in Escambia County, placing us in the top 5% of complaints state-wide. We have children being raised in homes where violence is commonplace, caregivers are having intercourse in front of children, doing drugs in
front of their children, watching pornography in front of children, and not doing anything to train their own children on behavior---let alone their colors and shapes! Guess what--when these children from these dysfunctional households come to school, there are problems!
So instead of discussing this problem, having a truly courageous conversation, we instead continue to allow teachers to be scapegoats and we wonder why so many teachers are quitting these schools with high levels of social dysfunction?
We blame teachers and hold parents and communities blameless, and we wonder why we can’t get substitute teachers to show up at some of these schools?
We fail to negotiate pay supplements for the teachers that work in the schools that serve these dysfunctional populations, and we wonder why the Principals and staff turns over completely every three years at these schools and we can’t staff these schools with highly qualified teachers.
It’s really not a mystery. Here’s the bottom line:
-The fix for this problem will be expensive and it will take time. Decades.
Spending Billions on pre-pre-pre-Kindergarten programs while blowing up budgets to magnify the nanny state will not work to help the academic achievement of these students. By third grade, according to the latest and best research available, the academic benefits of expensive pre-k programs vanish and students that did or did not attend such pre-k programs cannot be distinguished from one-another. So we need to focus resources on doing what works academically: INTENSIVE reading instruction grades 1-3. Intensive. Then we need to be bold like NYC's Harlem Children's Zone. We need to save hundreds of students, as many as we can, from their devastating home lives; We need to break the cycle of dysfunction and develop a boarding school for the students locally that live in the most dangerous, dysfunctional environments. Let their guardians (term used loosely) keep the benefits checks and visit once a week, but let these children have a chance at attaining a normal life.
Liberal policies from the 1960s have come home to roost and there are pockets of our country where generations and generations of families and communities are trapped in absolute dysfunction. Many families locally have no adult in the workforce. A dependency class has taken shape and students coming to public schools from this segment of America are starting their lives behind the 8-ball. Other communities with high levels of social dysfunction (Cleveland, New York, Washington DC, and Miami) have recognized this problem and have started these types of schools.
These children are capable, they can learn, but they must be removed from their toxic environments if we are truly going to make a positive impact and break this cycle of dysfunction on a large scale.
I’ve brought the boarding school concept several times to the board, but nobody listens and nobody takes the initiative to even look at this as a solution that could save these students. I brought a concept that could work in April of 2014, project 1-12 could be a game-changer, and it would help to provide some students locally an avenue out of their dysfunctional home lives.
But nobody is interested, nobody seizes the initiative.
So we keep doing the same things over and over wondering why nothing changes, asking for more money and attempting feckless solutions while ignoring the real issues. And we allow lunatics that know nothing about anything to define the reasons for our setbacks, focused on minor issues that will always be present in a large organization of 7,000 employees while ignoring the massive dysfunction among large swaths of the populations we serve. It is infuriating but nobody speaks up, nobody calls them out, people shrug their shoulders and say "we'll keep trying hard," and the real elephant in the room is never identified....And teachers are micro-managed and forced to do reams of paperwork and checklists and processes and all they want to do is be free to teach! When will this change?
Every few years we get our state report card that illustrates our academic performance in some schools is near the bottom of the state.
This happened again this year.
Intricate, cerebral explanations are ginned up faster than you can say abracadabra! The cut-scores were not given to the teachers until January, The state keeps changing the tests, kids are coming to Kindergarten unprepared, we need to focus on more intensive professional development, we need more resources, we need more tutors, we need new books, we must embrace technology, we need smart-board, etc. etc. etc. and it goes on and on.
I have witnessed this same circumstance year after year for ten years on the school board and I think it is time for real answers, real explanations, and honest conversations about social dysfunction as the MAJOR contributing factor in why some schools struggle year over year.
Here is the reality. Great communities and great neighborhoods make great public school districts and great public schools. It is very simple, and it is true.
There are examples throughout Escambia County of public schools that excel academically, making A school grades year over year-- I can give a half-dozen examples right off the bat but I won’t. We have made huge strides with respect to our on-time, four year graduation rate, and our senior class of 2016 earned $30 Million in college scholarships this year! Our cream of the crop of honor graduates will be attending the finest universities in our nation this fall--they stack up with the smartest students anywhere!
Sure we can do a better job of enforcing discipline, and we should. I've fought hard for this. Sure, we could make High School Curriculum more rigorous, and we should. Sure, ESE inclusion is tough, and yes we can do better in a lot of areas, I admit this. But these things alone are not driving our school grades lower.
Blaming the teachers is not the answer. Blaming the system is not necessarily the right answer.
Looking at reality is the answer and looking realistically at the populations served is part of the solution.
Taking bold approaches is the answer. Having honest conversations is mandatory.