When Jeb Bush was governor, he talked about having Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). He’s the one that banked himself as the education governor and had his portrait done holding his BlackBerry (go see that painting before the blackberry gets airbrushed). That was near twenty years ago and the most consistent effort since then has been to bleed public schools of money and students. Charter schools with much less oversight and nebulous outcomes have experienced tremendous growth, while some public schools can’t get enough teachers and the ones living close enough to the Georgia border cross over for a better salary.
If anyone has spent anytime in the Florida classroom, they know that assessing what works and what doesn’t is not an easy task. That may be one of the main problems. Legislative decision makers don’t spend any time in classrooms. Teachers are left to deal with exhaustive Sunshine state standards, rigid bureaucracy, a lack of student discipline and readiness, low salaries, and gun laws that turn schools into mini-prisons. We may be graduating kids at what some may consider acceptable rates, but just how “educated” are they?
My own kids are usually bored at school. As a teacher, I got brilliant kids who were bored. I got kids who had no support at home. I got kids sent by the judge. Some parents let their kids come to school in vehicles that a teacher could never afford, yet don’t bother to check their homework, while others let their kids arrive without eating or sleeping the night before. Teachers are expected to deal with this and with standards shaped by narrow-minded conservatives and corporate nepotism.
A real BHAG would be to stop treating school as babysitting. Pay teachers what they should be paid. Instead of $10,000 below the national average, let’s go $10,000 above the national average. If you teach full-time in a K-12 classroom, that’s what you get. Let’s see how that kick starts getting the best of the best into the classroom. You could even extend school an extra month. A lot of kids need it, and I’ll bet most teachers would do it. If you don’t think it would pass, if you can’t get support of your school board, put it on the ballot. That would help us build careers instead of one out of five new teachers leaving within five years.
Better yet, just let the districts take over. Let them tax in an equitable manner, come up with a curriculum that gets kids excited about coming to school, and then let the communities hold schools and themselves accountable. Take the money that the state pays Pearson to create and proctor these awful teacher certification tests and put it into actual teacher training, or give it to the teachers of the year so they’ll stay. We don’t have a teacher or education problem in Florida. We have a leadership problem. The state has helped enough, thank you, and we can do better.
Daniel Parker is an author, educator, and public servant. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org