Please forgive me for not yelling euphorically about the Palm Beach County School District placing 16 out of 67 counties on student FCAT performance.
I don’t mean to be a killjoy but the news from the Florida Department of Education about the district ranking the highest out of the seven urban districts did not give me the slightest itch to high-five my colleagues or go into a celebratory dance.
As long as the state keeps equating educational touchdowns with the number of students who pass the FCAT, a high-stakes test that is neither valid nor reliable, I will refrain from breaking out into the “K-Mac shuffle” or shouting “We’re number one!” to my colleagues in lower-ranked districts.
Here’s the problem: The rankings only highlighted a commonly known link between socioeconomics and student achievement, instead of conveying any valuable information about the quality of instruction.
For example, 22 percent of students in St. John’s County live in poverty — the lowest in the state — but it ranks No. 1 in FCAT student performance. Madison County, on the other hand, ranked last on the list in student performance but has the second highest percentage of students in poverty.
Even within districts, there was quite a bit of variation among schools but schools with high student performance still had a much lower percentage of students on free or reduced lunch than schools with low student performance.
The real issue here is poverty. According to a report from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, homelessness among school-aged children skyrocketed from 30,878 in the 2006-2007 school year to more than 55,000 in the 2010-2011 school year. Palm Beach County saw a 66 percent increase in its poverty rate from 2007 to 2010, the largest among the urban school districts.
But, instead of tackling the issue of poverty, the bureaucrats and plutocrats in Tallahassee would rather pat themselves on the back for providing the public with a “user-friendly” means to evaluate schools and districts. Despite the opposition from top school officials about poverty and racial diversity not being factored into the rankings, Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said that the data “allows parents, educators and business and community leaders to view the information and make decisions about how they can be involved in education decisions in their local communities.”
On the surface that sounds peachy but this statement is just more of the same bureaucratic-speak from ideologues who don’t want an honest dialogue. Their intent is to continue to use public education as a political football that will keep teachers and students out of the end zone of academic success.
If Commissioner Robinson, Gov. Rick Scott and the rest of their ilk view the release of this information as acting in the best interest of the public — a power play worthy of praise — then I’m glad some top education officials threw a penalty flag.
But I don’t think the play-calling will change, even though Robinson, who left his position as the Secretary of Education in Virginia to become Florida’s top education official in June 2011, is heralded by many state and national leaders as an education reformer.
We cannot make good decisions off flawed information. Either do it right or don’t do it all. If this approach is beneficial in dealing with students, then why haven’t the policymakers in Tallahassee received the memo? I guess they are too busy throwing Hail Marys instead of crafting a game plan that would truly make me and my cohorts celebrate.
Kevin McDonald is a Tampa native who has been teaching English in the Palm Beach County School District since 2001.
Photo: Kevin McDonald