A Lack of Vision

One of the biggest problems the Duval County School District has is it lacks vision. We don’t seem to have a comprehensive and realistic plan for our children. Now we do have a vision statement. It says: Every student will graduate from Duval County Public Schools with the knowledge and skills to be successful in post-secondary education and/or the workforce.

Unfortunately recent indicators say we’re not doing such a good job achieving that.

Florida State College at Jacksonville reports that seventy percent of recent grads have to take remedial courses before they start their studies. Then several employers have likewise said that finding competent workers among recent graduates is getting harder and harder to do. Which begs the question what are we doing wrong?
Could it be that we are requiring every student to take and pass the same classes to graduate? That’s right folks, here in Jacksonville we require every child regardless of ability, aptitude, intelligence, interest or desire to take the same classes to finish school. We in effect have a one-size fit’s all curriculum that sadly isn’t leading to many children being successful either in school or once they graduate.

The truth is the reality of society doesn’t support our districts vision. We don’t want a society of just brain surgeons or engineers, which is what the school board will have you believe, is possible. We need laborers, artists, tradesmen, and dozens of other professions that won’t be outsourced to India or other emerging third world countries. We however do need them to be able to do their jobs well.

Shouldn’t our vision instead be to help every child be as productive member of society as possible regardless of what they do? Whether they work with their hands or with their brains? Whether they dig ditches or fix hearts? Shouldn’t the vision we have for our children be realistic and achievable?

Furthermore if some or our students after they graduate high school get a job with a decent wage that has potential for advancement even if they never plan to go to college we should celebrate that. Not every child is going to be cut out for college and even more aren’t going to have the desire to attend. We as a society should not just accept that fact we should also embrace it. We should encourage children to be the best they can be whether they have a degree or not and public school should help develop whatever skills they have, not what skills we wish they had.

Also as society has evolved it’s become completely debatable if it’s even necessary that college be required to be successful. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that seven of the 10 employment sectors that are growing the quickest, those that include occupations such as home healthcare aide, customer service representative, food prepares and servers not only will see the largest gains over the next decade but require little more than on the job training to do successfully. These jobs don’t require four years of college and tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt to do. They also don’t require advance maths like algebra II or other courses that the DCPS system requires. A math teacher colleague of mine once asked, why am I teaching algebra II to a kid who wants to drive trucks for a living?

In a recent Las Angeles Times article W. Norton Grubb, a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Education said that “People with bachelor’s degrees will increasingly get not very highly satisfactory jobs. In that sense, people are getting more schooling than jobs are available.” He also noted that in 1970, 77% of workers with a bachelor’s degree were employed in professional and managerial occupations but that by 2000, that number had fallen to 60%. The article went on to quote the National Assn. of Colleges and Employers, which said that only one out of four college seniors this year had a job waiting for them upon graduation.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying college isn’t important, you will find study after study, which indicates it leads to higher salaries and more opportunities. I also personally greatly believe in education and encourage the kids in my class to pursue as much as they can, even the ones I know because of desire or ability won’t get that far.

I am also not saying we shouldn’t have minimal standards. Kids should be able to read and write, do math to a realistic level and have the ability to critically think upon graduation. They should also be respectful and have some semblance of a work ethic too, things the school system destroys when it doesn’t give kids consequences for bad behavior or pushes then along without the skills they need to be successful or just teaches to one test.

What I am saying is we need to have graduation tracks that teach kids, skills and trades. We need to serve the needs of all our students not those just destined to go to college upon graduation.

What I am saying is a bachelors degree is not the end all be all that it was a generation ago and what with the fast food eating, video game playing, Ritalin popping kids we have roaming the halls of today’s schools we should be exploring other options. I am saying that instead of just unrealistically preparing all our students for college, instead we should be preparing them for life and to be successful at whatever they choose to do.

How’s that for vision?

Those who are in charge at 1700 Prudential Drive might disagree with me when I say we lack vision. They would probably point to the Magnet School programs that have seen two of our schools, Stanton and Paxon be ranked in the top eight of the whole country. They might also point out that for years students here have been required to take advanced maths and science classes to graduate. That these are requirements that the state is now just beginning to phase in over the next four years.

The thing is for every success like above that the district points to, critical thinkers can also find numerous blaring drawbacks. There’s our graduation, reading and drop out rates, which are some of the worse in the state that people can easily point to. That and the fact even that college isn’t for everyone and by forcing all students into the same track more and more are needlessly dropping through the cracks. Plus I never said we lacked vision, I said we lacked a realistic and achievable one.

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