You would think the “priority one” in the Duval County school system would be to provide a first class education to all of our students. Nope, the poorly named priority one is instead designed to make sure students in magnet school neighborhoods have the first choice to attend those schools. Since most of our magnet schools are in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, this option is at best a bit disingenuous on the part of our school system. At its worst, it is part of the systematic dumbing down of our minority children doomingt hem to a life filled with struggle and without opportunity.
They offered a choice they knew few would take advantage of. If kids are struggling at Raines and Jackson what chance do you think they would have at Paxon or Stanton? The correct answer is they would have two chances: slim and none. Magnet schools, and whether you think they have a role or not, have been a pox on our urban schools, they siphon many of the best students and motivated parents out, leaving the schools ripe for dismantling at the hands of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. A law that has done damage to our urban schools that the state is seeking to get out of.
Look at the state’s waiver to get out of No Child Left Behind. The draconian measures have already gutted many urban schools, paving the way for charter schools of dubious quality and instead of fixing the problems at the schools; they deprive the schools of funds by sending the students away on opportunity scholarships. The students that then remain are taught by micromanaged, over burdened, and often inexperienced teachers.
What is the district’s solution to at least put veteran teachers in those schools? They have two. One, throw a few dollars at the problem by trying to bribe veteran teachers to go to them, something few do and to contract with Teach for America to bring in a hundred teachers whose sole education background is a two-week access course. The district’s own study said one of the problems in our urban schools is too many inexperienced teachers, which makes the district’s solution to add more inexperienced teachers even more confusing, unless it is part of an overall plan. By the way, very few Teach for America teachers stick around for more than two years meaning they will constantly have to be replaced, thus continuing the cycle of novice teachers in our hardest classrooms.
The reason the state is now filing for a NCLB waiver has nothing to do with helping our urban schools. It has everything to do with stopping what happened to our struggling schools from happening to our affluent schools. The legislature knows that the ever-increasing requirements of NCLB are about to give suburbia a kick in the gut, so the state decided to put a stop to it. The powers-that-be say we can’t have our white students being shuffled off to charter schools of dubious quality, besides we all know that most charter schools are for poor black kids anyway. Though are they going to back up and put the proper resources into out struggling schools? Nope this summer they are going to take them over because our district has no idea what it is doing.
Speaking of charter schools, which cater mostly to poor minority students, look at the KIPP School. The KIPP School had the worst grade on the FCAT in Northeast Florida; in fact its children regressed. What does the district do? Ask for more oversight? A plan for improvement? No. It allows them to open up two more schools. Waiting to see if the first school is ever a success was too much to ask apparently. They said, lets double, no triple down and push away more of our poor black kids. In KIPP Schools defense, where their track record is dubious at least they aren’t a for profit operation more concerned with the bottom line than how our children do. I wonder how many of their teachers are new or stick around?
Instead of working to improve our struggling schools, to help our minority children all the state and district do is put more obstacles in their way. Do you know what the difference in curriculum is between the most motivated student at Stanton and a marginally interested student, who lives with his grandmother, who wants to drive a truck, that goes to Ribault is? The answer there is none. Well, make that the student at Stanton is getting the education he wants to get while the one at Ribault is forced to muddle through school taking classes that he isn’t interested in, in a one-size-fits-all system.
The state ignores poverty saying it is an excuse, well look where all the schools that have been taken over, or are in danger of being taken over reside. There isn’t a school in Mandarin or at the beach in danger where neighborhoods are doing a little better is there? No they are all located in the depressed North side and West sides of town. Poverty, by the way, is the number one quantifiable measurement in education; those students that live in it as a group does worse than those that don’t. But that’s not to say we should just throw our hands up and quit and dismantle the schools and ship the students out, something the state and district seem to want. The state, so its friends can make money off the privatization movement, and the district because they don’t have a clue as to what to do.
There are common sense solutions that don’t break the bank or reinvent the wheel, and don’t wreck neighborhoods in the process. We should have discipline and rigorous classes. We do students no favors when we pass them along without discipline, or a work ethic, or the basic knowledge that they need. If we provided legitimate after school and summer school opportunities we could catch the kids up to where they should be. We could make the schedules more manageable (8 classes at a time, really) and make school more enjoyable to kids by making sure each student had a least one elective on their schedule that is more meaningful to them by putting, trade, skill and arts opportunities in the schools.
Priority one should be fixing these schools not figuring out how white kids can make it to Stanton and Paxon, and it can be done, all that is stopping it is the will, leadership, and a district and state that are more interested in hamstringing these children just as their lives are beginning.