It is understood that much of our country is saddled with low standards of education and it has often been mentioned that better education for our young people is the surest and best way to raise our standard of living.  This is the place to explore the situation and what can be done about it.

We guarantee free education for everyone K through 12.  We largely pay for this experience through property taxes.  In a wealthy subdivision of expensive homes, the schools have plenty of money.  In the inner city with very low property taxes, the schools suffer.

One of the surest ways to insure a quality education for the kids is to attract quality teachers.  One of the factors necessary to get the best for the kids is to pay the teachers a quality salary.  When making a decision about school funding, paying more requires a tax increase.  In an affluent area, that's not too difficult.  In poorer areas, it's not so easy.  It has also been a problem where families are older (without school age children).

Teacher pay is an important issue but recent teacher strikes around the country have exposed another issue - the condition of schools and the lack of basic supplies in many them.

While many of the financial issues can be traced to the taxes that come from the area in which the school is located, there are other money issues.  Some states have allowed gambling to flourish partly based on the promise that schools will benefit from taxes earned from the gambling industry.  There are examples where tax money destined for schools has been diverted to other purposes by state legislatures.

Recently (last 5 years or so) there is another threat to our education system from charter schools.  Charter schools are supposed to have an advantage in that they can to some degree set their own curriculum, hire the teachers they need, and administer the school with local input rather than matching rules and regulations set by state or federal  governments.

There are a number of good charter schools but there are also many that lag behind public schools in results.  When they don't do well, the problems are usually traced to how they use the funds they receive from the state.  The theory is that the state will turn over to the company running the school the per student money allocated to the public schools.  The bottom line is that the company that runs a school is not a charity.  They need to earn a profit.  If they get the same money that a public school gets per student, where does the profit come from?

If you are a company looking for profit the first and most obvious source is to cut teacher pay.  Hire less experienced teachers and don't allow teacher unions in.  Since the school is not bound by state or national government rules, they can reduce costs by not accepting problem students - handicapped, foreign language speakers, low performing kids or troubled kids - that public schools must educate.

Another variation of the charter school is the questionable concept of "school vouchers".  If your child is attending a poor performing school (actually schools don't perform at all - it's the students and teachers that are responsible for the school's rating), you can get a voucher that will allow your child to attend a better performing private school.  There are a few problems with this concept.  First, the cost.  Most private schools ask parents to pay a fee to have their child attend.  That fee is often quite a bit more than the states per student budget so how do we justify just sending anyone from a poor performing school to the private school down the street?  Second, the private schools "perform" better (kids make better grades on tests) than public schools because they are selective in who they accept and the kids parents are involved because they are paying.

There are exceptions to all of these critiques of charter and private schools.  Some charter schools are underwritten by corporate grants - especially those with a specific focus as in science or music.  We have a wonderful example here in the Villages.  By almost any measure you can apply, the Villages Charter Schools are exceptional.

So, what do we need to do to improve our educational system?

Better funding - first and foremost, pay the teachers and provide better facilities.

Look closely at the issues surrounding voucher programs.  Do they really make sense?

Control the expansion of charter schools.  Insure that they are adhering to state and local rules regarding pay and benefits.  Review curricula to make sure that the basics are included.

December 10, 2018

Florida Dept. of Education

The article below appeared on the blog Florida Politics and gives some good insight into the presumed new Commissioner of the Dept. of Education. The state League, along with other statewide groups, has expressed their concern about not following the process as outlined in the state Constitution:

Joe Henderson: More disruption is coming to Florida public schools

If you love and support Florida public schools, there is a bad moon rising. Richard Corcoran is all but certain to be the state’s new Education Commissioner, and anyone associated with public education may be tempted to hide their eyes for the next four years. While the Commissioner doesn’t directly set policy — the State Board of Education does that — the position carries enormous influence.

Corcoran will be in a position to hire the kind of people he wants to staff the Department of Education, and use his considerable political skills to communicate ideas and strategy between the DOE and the state Board. The Board has to formally approve the appointment, but that’s considered a formality.

 Administrators should prepare to have more of their budgets directed to charter schools and voucher programs. They can expect more interference in their jobs and less cooperation when they need help.

Teachers will see their negotiating rights under constant siege from a man whose history suggests he despises their union. They won’t be able to stop it, either, because Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis appears to share many of Corcoran’s core values when it comes to education. Ultimately, public school students could lose too because those who operate the system will be consumed by fending off what is all but certain to be a barrage of disruptive edicts from Tallahassee. And no one will be able to do a darned thing to stop this. Republicans remain in charge of the Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion, and history shows they are disgruntled with both the performance and cost of public schools.

Actually, in at least one critical area Republicans have a good point. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel just reported that school districts throughout Florida have ignored the law that requires all crimes on their campuses be reported to the state. The newspaper concluded the lack of those reports could make parents believe their schools are safer than they actually are. Now, if Corcoran wants to disrupt that kind of deception, hey, go for it.

Quickly. When it comes to education policy though, I have no doubt that he will, in the words of pitcher Nuke Laloosh in Bull Durham, announce his presence with authority — probably with more success though. He is really just the next link in the GOP chain regarding education. This goes back to when then-Gov. Jeb Bush pushed through an arbitrary grading system for public schools, followed by a blizzard of standardized tests that tied student performance to teacher pay. It continued during Corcoran’s stint as House Speaker when he went all-in to direct public school money to charters and voucher programs while all but mocking those running Florida public schools.

The situation in some districts has deteriorated to the point where many of them report significant teacher shortages. Crushing demands by politicians coupled with pay that is well below the national average has made teaching a less desirable profession. Many long-time teachers have left the profession completely because of partisan political meddling. It’s reasonable to expect the exodus to continue under Corcoran’s rule because he is their worst nightmare.

He is savvy, smart, fearless, determined and utterly convinced he is right, and anyone who opposes him is wrong. He fiercely believes his vision of education is the correct one, and that the entrenched public-school bureaucracy is resisting meaningful reform. He is willing to debate that point anyone who disagrees, and as Speaker he tended to roll over anyone who got in his way. And now he is about to assume a job that will allow him to get deep into the weeds of Florida’s education policy.

There was talk earlier this year that Corcoran would run for Governor, but that campaign never happened. Many then believed he might be named to the state Supreme Court. But if he couldn’t be Governor, I think this is the job that Corcoran really wanted.

As Speaker, he had many priorities that consumed much of his time. In his new job, he will be able to concentrate on an area where he believes disruption is good and major change is needed. That leaves two options for those associated with Florida public schools.

Buckle up or move on.

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