Laurie Murphy: Mixed messages with public education


Published: Friday, September 27, 2013 at 4:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 27, 2013 at 4:21 p.m.

On Sept. 23, Florida Education Association President Andy Ford issued the powerful statement that the Florida’s educational system was “clearly broken.” He based his statement on the impact of 15 years of high-stakes testing, school grading and the recent implementation of test-based teacher evaluations. He also stated that the public has lost faith in the state management of its own public educational system.

If, as Ford states, our system of public education is broken, then none of us are innocent. We allowed this to happen. It is time that we examine and admit to our own failings -- our actions and inactions -- and then dedicate ourselves to stopping these destructive behaviors. We need to do this collectively and as individuals. As painful as it may be, we must do this, for it is only by understanding how we, the public, contributed to the destruction of public schools that we can take the actions needed to reverse it.

For instance, for too long, we have created and spread mixed messages when it comes to public education. We say that there are many types of intelligence and giftedness, but gauge student outcomes only on academic test scores. We state that teachers influence the emotional, creative, and intellectual growth of students, but then accept policies that base teacher-effectiveness (and pay and retention) primarily on test scores. We tell students that everything they do is important if they are to succeed in life, from behaving appropriately, completing homework, participating in discussions and debate, stretching their reach and risking failure as they explore, engaging in extracurricular activities and volunteer work, and developing their talents and passions. But then we base success, failure, and access to "extras" on test scores. Period.

Worse yet, we demand "accountability" from all involved in the school system. Politicians and the media scream this word to all who will listen, and we nod our heads in agreement. However, we don't hold policymakers accountable when they pass laws/regulations that kill the best parts of our educational system.

Every day, parents learn of another loss. Librarians are replaced by technology and less knowledgeable aides. Recess is reduced or eliminated. Arts are provided only to those who meet certain academic levels. Students read excerpts instead of full books. Professional and highly experienced teachers are being replaced by workers who have as little as five weeks of educational training. Natural learning opportunities are replaced by scripted lessons and responses.

These policies did not happen without the involvement and agreement of many. Too many "good guys" have played a role in allowing the threat and destruction of public education to grow. We have allowed and even participated in “mixed messaging.” It is time that this stops. We need to take a hard line at what we do, agree to, and permit to continue.

It is time for all of us to stand firm when we encounter actions that are not truly in the best interest of our students, our educational professionals, our schools, and our community. We need to stop compromising when the compromise is wrong.

Sometimes such a stance will be costly. We may lose a seat at the table. We may lose an elected position. We may be the subject of ridicule and cutting editorials. But our legacy will be found in our truth and our willingness to stand up for what is right- not just for today, but for our future.

It is time that we learn to say the word, “No.” It is time that we say it loudly, often and with conviction. Some things can’t be allowed to continue, regardless as to what it costs us personally. We must not –- we cannot -- negotiate with the lives of children.

Laurie Murphy lives in Sebring.

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