Education system ineffective, change needed for Florida

Posted November 13, 2012

By ALEX CORREA
School of Communication
University of Miami

It seems that since all of the contentiousness of the election in 2000, the voters and state officials in Florida have been stereotyped as uneducated. Therefore, our reputation for having an ineffective system of education has since been magnified.

It doesn’t help that those who speak ill of Florida’s education system have the numbers on their side.

Unfortunately for Florida, the measures used to determine the effectiveness of education have not been very pretty the past decade. Under “No Child Left Behind” the federal government measures academic progress by a standard called Adequate Yearly Progress.

This standard measures the progress that students have been making in areas like reading and math. By this measurement, the percentage of criteria met by Florida has consistently been going down. In the 2003-04 school year Florida met 83 percent of their criteria, however, by the 2010-2011 school year the criteria met was down to 56 percent. Each of these years Florida has failed to make adequate yearly progress.

According to Gisela Feild, administrative director of Assessment, Research, and Data Analysis at Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the problem has less to do with progress and more to do with the system of measuring criteria.

“The reason that the percent of the criteria being met has been declining is that the cut scores required to meet the criteria were being raised on a yearly basis,” said Feild. “The Florida Department of Education recognized that the AYP model was contradictory to the School Grading model used in the State of Florida to grade schools, so they put forth a waiver to the US Department of Education to align the School Grading Formula and the AYP determination.”

That waiver has been temporarily granted for 2011-12; however, in an election year, voters want to know what is going wrong with things like education so they can figure out how to make them right. However, the problem with education seems to have many layers, beginning with the direction in which education funds are going.

“Florida does not do a good job investing in early childhood education and, therefore, children do not come prepared to school,” said Dr. Isaac Prilleltensky, dean of the School of Education at the University of Miami. “There is an emphasis on channeling dollars from public schools to new charter schools that have not yet proven that they are worth the investment.”

Most experts on education agree that the new-found emphasis on charter schools has diluted funds for public education. This is money that most feel would perhaps be better spent on things like early childhood education or hiring more teachers in order to limit class size and create a more personal environment for educating young minds. However, this is not the greatest failure of the current education system in the minds of many experts.

“I strongly believe that the main culprit of this trend is the curriculum and the way administrators and districts insist on teaching to the test,” admitted Dr. Gloria Artecona-Pelaez, director of Accreditation at the University of Miami and a government liaison. “We no longer expose students to real literature, to the many prize-winning children and adolescent books available, we constantly drill and use fictitious text designed to teach phonics.”

These seem to be very common complaints for teachers and students when discussing the education system. Teaching to the test leaves very little room for educators to address a student’s specific needs and inspire them to think. For voters, however, addressing these issues is turning out to be quite difficult. When asked which party supports reforming these issues, education experts do not have a very inspiring outlook.

“Unfortunately the election will not change this trend significantly because both parties agree that more testing, more charter schools, more pay for performance, and more teachers with poor preparation are the answers to the educational failures of the country,” said Prilleltensky. “None of these strategies have worked, but both parties agree to promote them despite evidence to the contrary.”

Perhaps the story of an election is not only about the choices the electorate faces, but also about the choices that they do not seem to have. Most seem to agree that education is among the most important choices for the future of our country, yet candidates with new and bold ideas have not been brought into the fold.

However, there is no need to give up hope on education in Florida. Not all the numbers have gone down in the past decade. The rate of graduation in Florida has gone up from 66 percent in 2003 to 78 percent in 2010. While it may not seem like much, it’s enough to give Floridians hope for what the next generation will be able to do.

As for the present, voters must pressure those that represent them to open their minds to the advice of these education experts. Government officials must be wiser with funds and perhaps find new ways to empower educators with more freedom in their curriculum to work with the children. Most people would agree, when looking at the education statistics in Florida, that it is time for a change.

“Stop the insanity of evaluating teachers by how well their students do in one test,” said Artecona-Pelaez. “Let teachers teach, guide and provide opportunities for the students to discover, experiment, write.”

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