One can still hear the beep on the heart monitor but that’s probably the only positive sign from the patient in intensive care. Given the countless number of treatments and medicines that have been administered, some of them cutting edge, the prognosis still looks bleak. If something is not done soon, the patient will flatline.
This bed-ridden soul is not just a person. It has tens of thousands of faces and a plethora of voices but its gaunt countenance and cries for help have been either ignored or mistreated. This patient, this weakened warrior, is none other than the American public school system. Our public schools have been anemic for decades, even before the publication of the Nation at Risk report in 1983 but the problem of students getting a subpar education seems to be especially acute in Florida.
According to the 2011 ACT college and career readiness report, a large percentage of Florida high school graduates lack the knowledge and skills needed to enroll and succeed in for-credit
courses without remediation. Approximately 66 percent of graduates nationally are proficient in English but the number drops to 55 percent for Florida graduates. In reading, 52 percent of graduates nationally are proficient but only 44 percent of Florida graduates meet the college readiness benchmark in reading.
Florida is nine points lower than the 45 percent national average in math and 10 points lower than the 30 percent national average in science.
As wretched as these numbers are, it’s much worse for African-American students. If we look at English, only 27 percent of African Americans are college-ready in a subject they are required to take during all four years of high school.
In other words, seven out of 10 African-American students in Florida are not ready for the rigors of college-level reading and writing. So, instead of these students taking courses that count toward graduation, they will spend additional money on remedial classes that will teach them what they should have learned in high school.
So how do we invigorate a moribund public school system?
A possible solution is to change the treatments and meds from the No Child left Behind Act to something that works. That something is still nebulous as we approach the holiday season but President Barack Obama has given the states a green light to opt out of the law. Florida will be one of many states to do so. However, given the deep budget cuts, education reform will probably be feckless in empowering teachers and increasing student achievement.
Real change, especially for our African-American students, will only come to fruition when all stakeholders begin doing their part to maximize the potential of each student.
For parents, that means turning off the television and taking away cell phones and videogame consoles until all homework is done.
For businesses and community organizations, it means taking an active role in a school near you. Volunteer. Mentor. Do what you can to help. Our public school system is fighting for its life and all of us, regardless of race, color and age, have a role to play in its resuscitation.
Kevin McDonald is a Tampa native who has been teaching English in the Palm Beach County School District since 2001.
Photo: Kevin McDonald