The Florida school debacle

The Legislature is doing more harm than good by focusing on test scores rather than actual learning.

Published: Monday, January 19, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 19, 2004 at 2:02 a.m.

I am sickened by what is really happening in Florida schools.

\ I have taught in Florida for 32 years. Chosen as one of the top five educators in the nation in 1989 by the Parent Teacher Association, I was an instructional principal organizing and working with teachers to ensure that every child left school each day successful in reading.

Gov. Jeb Bush's plan of emphasizing test scores has made our schools into taking-the-test factories. This is harming our children by bringing effective long-term love of learning almost to a standstill. Teachers, students and parents have to adhere to the restrictions on instruction because schools are rated from A to F on achievement on test scores. The publicly praising or ridiculing educators has pressured teachers and principals into spending an exorbitant amount of time on teaching the test.

These tests are given to all children of the same age, regardless of advantages or disadvantages from home. Expecting children to be able to achieve on a standardized test without considering their past educational advantages or deprivation is unfair.

The test scores result in literally hundreds or thousands of dollars in state funds going to mainly affluent schools, while most underprivileged schools are condemned to failure, with teachers and principal jobs in jeopardy after three years failing these tests.

In actuality, the failing schools may have the best instruction! Here is why: In schools being labeled D or F, students may be achieving well at their correct instructional level. This means that a child has to be taught on his past knowledge base of recognizing letters, words in context, comprehension, etc., or correct instructional level.

Educational researchers and teachers know that class size is absolutely critical, and that any number more than 18 in a class makes it impossible for the teacher to give adequate attention to the children who need extra help. Rules enacted by politicians who want to be re-elected without even reviewing known research need to be questioned as does the leadership of our governor and education commissioner!

The consequences of the Jeb Bush era in education are:

1. An inflation of test scores. If studied statistically, they would show improbably rising scores. (Are we teaching to the tests?)

2. Teachers retiring because there is little time to instill the "love of learning" or to get to know and appreciate each child's natural skills and talents. Just drilling day to day on tests puts students and teachers in an entirely different role than what the educators were trained to do: teach skills and whole language approach to learning, love of reading, social students, science, the arts, cultural values, plus a love of school and of learning.

3. The teachers who deal with poverty day in and day out, who have to overcome problems such as hunger of their children at school, dirty clothes, enormous home deprivation, are penalized for being in a "failing school" and have to forfeit bonus money. These teachers are working in harder and harsher conditions. I know because in my last 11 years as a principal, I chose to be in this environment myself.

4. Teachers are leaving Florida in large numbers because of this environment. This causes the standards for state certification to be weakened to lure in new teachers.

5. Teachers and students are beginning to detest going to school because of the pressure of tests. They are developing sleeping, as well as, eating problems dealing with the stress.

The public needs to realize the educators are not failing our students. Why would they keep these jobs that pay less than jobs requiring comparable four year degrees while having to take abuse daily from politicians, newspapers, television and the general public?

Give the educators a break! Question these plans that are put into place by politicians and are devastating our schools!

Carolyn M. Lawrence is an educator and author who lives in Gainesville.

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