F-Schools: And That’s Not an Abbreviation for Florida Schools

For those of you not in Florida or another state that grades their schools based on student progress in standardize tests, you may not have realized that other states grade their schools just like your state grades its students.  In fact, in Florida, if a school achieves the distinction of getting an ‘F’ grade too many times, and isn’t once enough for most people, the school could be taken over by the state.  Now I can not imagine how much better that would be.

 No really, my imagination is not that big.

But before that happens, often the school district and even the state may expend huge sums of money into these failing schools doing all sorts of useful things like painting the walls a different color or updating the landscaping around the building to make it a more pleasant place to be or repaving the parking lot.  (Now if you laughed at that last one, don’t.  With all of the student’s being held back in the elementary grades, they are having a difficult time finding a place to park their cars when they drive to school.)  Of course in the meantime, the teachers don’t even have enough text books to give one to each student.

Instead some teachers consider themselves lucking to have one copy of the textbook for each desk in class.  The student can use the book while in class, but cannot remove it from the classroom.  Often teachers cannot get a teacher’s manual to go with the textbook.  That lack of additional resources places an unreasonable burden on the teachers who must then come up with the right answers to all of the chapter exercises.  Our local TV station once captured a teacher saying that she was not good a taking tests so this could be a problem.

When asked why each student doesn’t get their own copy of the textbook to use for the school year, they are told that the students would just take them home and hide them under their beds where there are reportedly enough books now to resupply half the libraries around the state.  And these books are in practically new condition because they have never been opened.  Of course, you will have to remove the cobwebs, food crumbs, and the dust bunnies from them first, but hey, other than that, they haven’t been touched.

So without a textbook to take home, the teachers must either a) Write all of the homework problems on the board or find a marker to write on a clear plastic sheet (plastic wrap works good) to display on an overhead projector so the students can copy the problems down incorrectly or b) take a sheet of paper with the problems down to the copy room to run off copies and hope that the school has not already run out of copy paper (even if it is only the first week of school).

But fortunately for the teachers, they don’t have to do this all that often.  In fact, they are told that they should not give homework more than twice a week to these struggling students and never on the weekend.  (Boy! I sure wish I had it that easy when I went to school.)  They are told that if they give homework too frequently, the students won’t do it anyway so why bother.  I remember getting homework every night and twice as much on weekends.

Also, for some reason, teachers are not allowed to throw chalk or erasers at students who fall asleep during class.  In fact, teachers are told to just let them pull their hoods over their heads and sleep because they probably don’t get a lot of rest in their homes if they even have a home to go to.  But that may be just as well, because when other students bring food into the class, they don’t have to share it with as many of their fellow students if half of them are sleeping.

So what happens when a student fails a standardized test?  Why of course they are given a chance to take it again because maybe they were just ‘having a bad day’.  Sometimes to help them concentrate, an adult will read the questions to them just in case they have trouble reading.  For example:

"Ok, first question.  Question 1)  B  Which of the following is a shape that does not have straight edges?"

            A. Square
            B. Circle
            C. Triangle
            D. Pentagon

Of course, they all know that the Pentagon is a building so it is not a shape.

Failing their standardized test does not mean that the student cannot be held back a grade.  In fact, there are several grades in which they can still be promoted even if they do not pass the standardized test for their current grade.  For example, they know that they can not be held back more than twice in any one grade.  So by the third time in the same grade, they simply tell the teacher where to go with their tests and homework.  Furthermore, to insure that we don’t have students old enough to drive, vote, and even drink in 3rd grade, there is the ability to promote them just based on the fact that they no longer fit into those tiny desks anymore.

Of course, everyone knows that it is solely the school’s fault if the students do not excel in their education.  Social, economic, peer, and neighborhood factors could not possibly be the cause, or so we are told.  In fact, even the mention of these potential factors elicits cries of ‘profiling’ from some.  It must be the teacher’s fault because they were not stimulating enough, entertaining enough, or lack the ability to mind-meld the information into their students.  Maybe it’s time we call in Dr Spock, or is that Mr. Spock.  Anyway, that would require a massive enterprise.  If only we had better teachers willing to work for less money than a McDonald hamburger chef earns, perhaps everything would be alright again in American education.  Maybe then fast food cashiers could give correct change too.

Furthermore, don’t even begin to try to place the blame on previous year teachers, or heaven forbid, lower grade schools that never had a problem promoting every one of their students.  The mere thought of trying to intervene in earlier years to correct years of neglected education that only manifests itself at the high school level is obscenely ridiculous to most PhD holding educators, at least to those who teach anything but high school.  Rather than looking at what happens in elementary school they say we need to concentrate on the problems here and now, not on what happened in the past.  After all, what is, is.  If after 10 years of school, a student still cannot read Dick and Jane, then we must ask our teachers to catch them up to where they are suppose to be by the standardized test next year or else that teacher will lose their job.  Who are they kidding?  I would offer that trying to resolve student’s reading problems after they fail their 10th grade standardized reading tests is a bit late to realize that there is a problem.  How did they get to the 10th grade anyway?  Of course, you might say that it is never too late to learn to read.  True.  But it is never too early to start either.  It is time to focus on the root, not just the end result.  Early intervention and instilling an early love of learning, reading, math and science is what we need all parents, relatives, friends, neighbors, businesses, and yes, schools to give our children.

So when you see failing schools, you should be asking not just why that school failed, but why the schools that feed into that school prepared those students to fail and why their parents lacked the vision to emphasize education at home and thus failed those students just as much if not more than the schools did.  Maybe then we will understand why these students’s highest possible career goal is to work for Walmart, Target, or some other large department store.  If everyone is capable of greatness, if everyone is capable of learning, if everyone is capable of living a life better than their parents, then why do so many fail?  Does society emphasize the wrong priorities in life?  Are we putting round pegs into square holes?

As my daughter in her recent valedictorian speech quoted Edmund S. Wilson, “Only the curious will learn and only the resolute will overcome the obstacles to learning.  The quest quotient has always excited me more than the intelligence quotient.”  Everyone can succeed in getting a high school education no matter how rich or how poor, no matter if they come from a traditional family or a broken home, no matter what their race, color, religion, or TV show preference.  If they are just curious enough about what is going on around them, why things are they way they are, and how they could be made better they will lead a very successful and happy life.  She went on to say that the sad thing is that 41% of children her age don’t have the opportunity to receive a high school education and are deprived of the honor of graduating with a high school diploma.  She then said that by graduating, all of her fellow students in the arena are ‘the elite of the world’ for reaching and achieving their goal.  (She did receive applause for that.)

We need to get serious about education in this country.  It needs to be a priority.  It needs funding.  We need to take pride in educating our children and they need to be exciting about the doors that education can open for them if they are just curious enough to try.  Our children are NOT all equal.  They do NOT all have the same interests, skills, or abilities.  And that is GREAT because every one of them is unique and can find their own way to a better life if only we can turn on their desire to learn, their curiosity about the world around them.  It is our responsiblity as adults to help them find their own path, their own success.  A cookie cutter approach to education will never work.  We need to customize our learning experience for different needs, different skills.  It is our future.  But most importantly, it is our children’s future.  Let’s put an end to F-schools by placing the emphasis, and blame, where it belongs and helping all children increase their curiosity about the world around them.


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