On behalf of the school board members and all of the education community throughout Florida, I would like to take this opportunity to raise a few points concerning your recent series of articles on the status of education in Florida.
As one of Florida's largest businesses that serves over 2.2 million customers daily, serves over 1.5 million meals per day and employs over 250,000 people, we can appreciate that we must constantly strive to serve the students attending our public schools in an effective and efficient manner.
While you have certain valid points, you have chosen to totally ignore the many excellent programs that are occurring daily and the fact that thousands of dedicated school employees are "painted" with the broad negative brush that your articles portray. To use as one of your chief spokespersons the only PTA president who was ever removed from her job by her own members is not responsible and fair reporting. I urge you to lend a voice in a manner that will present the "real" picture of the public schools of Florida.
Seventy percent of the school board members in Florida are businessmen and women who dedicate a tremendous amount of time to serving their local communities.
We work daily to ensure that our tax dollars are spent effectively and Florida's children are obtaining an excellent education. With tremendous enrollment growth (67,000-plus students per year), overcrowded classrooms, dysfunctional families, state mandates and a significant lack of funding, it is a challenge to maintain excellence and to continuously offer numerous quality programs to our students.
When I criticize a program in my school district, I always attempt to offer solutions at the same time. We encourage and welcome FLORIDA TREND and all of its readers to become active in our schools and become part of the solution to achieving better schools. I know you will accept this challenge and work with us in the future.
Florida School Boards Association
Thanks for your provocative September issue on education. I believe you accurately captured the strong desire for change in our school system on the part of parents, the business com-munity and taxpayers generally. However, there are several points I would like to correct or clarify.
The description of my support for charter schools contained in "Choice" by John McKinnon implied that I only wanted existing public schools to have the option of converting to charter status. In fact, I have always pushed for a law which would also allow parents, teachers, community organizations, non-profits or businesses to create new innovative schools.
While I do not believe charter schools are a panacea, I believe they offer much of what is needed in our school system: true school autonomy, more choices for parents, high academic standards and real accountability for results.
I will continue to press for dramatic deregulation of the entire school system and more educational choices for all Floridians.
In "Perestroika, Florida Style", Barbara Miracle wrote, "Brogan's reforms fail to deal with the crux of the problem - inept principals and untalented teachers." That is not the case. As a former classroom teacher, dean of students, principal and superintendent, I appreciate more than most how important it is to have quality, competent individuals in our schools.
By the time this appears in print, three task forces will be well under way examining teacher certification, hiring and firing practices for teachers and principals and disciplinary procedures for school employees. We hope to make recommendations for legislative changes in time for the 1996 session.
Finally, in the Florida Close-Up column, Editor John Berry mentioned the education summit I will be convening with the business community and educators December 7-8 in Orlando, noting that "Blueprint 2000" will be the "centerpiece of discussions." Actually, the summit will examine academic standards, how to provide more choices for parents ? including charter schools, the role technology can play in the classroom and real accountability measures for results.
Thanks again for your informative September issue. It will take strong support from the business community to make a successful revolution in Florida education.
Frank T. Brogan
Florida Department of Education
Just a brief note to congratulate and thank you for the article on programs for "gifted" children that appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat on August 27. I thought the piece was right on target. It brought to light an issue about which too little is known by nearly everyone. I may do a follow-up piece of some sort, either for one of the Institute's publications or as an op-ed piece. And thanks, too, for all the good things you do for Florida.
J. Stanley Marshall
Chairman and CEO
James Madison Institute
As a new School Board member from Monroe County, I feel obliged to respond to your self-righteous September issue, its dark thematic undercurrent being the near-violent overthrow of public education in Florida. Don't fool yourselves into thinking that the free market system is a panacea for school improvement. Understand that our problems are much more complicated than that; the solutions (note the plural) will be even more complex.
Having observed the local elementary school through the eyes of my six-year-old daughter, I chose to run for political office in 1994 to help set a new direction for a good but overburdened school system. Like many areas, the Florida Keys have experienced dramatic growth, reflected in crowded schools and overworked staff.
Since Monroe County has successfully used school-based management for more than 20 years, we do not suffer from an oversized, self-serving administration. We do, however, suffer from an expansive, burdensome series of state-imposed regulations and unfunded and underfunded mandates.
Why didn't you address the Legislature's role in our current situation a bit more effectively? McKinnon's article, in particular, clearly demonstrates your political agenda with its straw man arguments. A truer picture would have decried the increase in Florida School Law regulations during the same year legislators touted publicly that they wanted to give districts more freedom through charter schools and vouchers. Get rid of most of those regulations and every Florida school could be a charter school.
Except for Barbara Miracle's well-done piece on Blueprint 2000 and David Villano's effort on technology, I suspect you interviewed more political pundits than parents and teachers for this issue. Next time you devote an entire issue to public schools, devote enough time to getting a broad opinion base, too.
Debra Walker, Ph.D.
Monroe County School Board, District 5
In reference to the September 1995 issue of Florida Trend, devoted to "The Coming Revolution in Florida Education": What exactly is keeping students from learning? The most descriptive term I read in any of the articles was "incompetent teacher."
I am horrified, as anyone should be, by the bureaucracy, swelling budgets and self-serving actions of school administrators, but that doesn't answer the question. Are the students sitting in rooms without books, without teachers, without desks? Are there no blackboards? Can the teachers be that bad?
I am not a parent, but I teach Sunday school to 2nd and 3rd graders. It is difficult [enough] to teach eight children who I am able to discipline; I don't know how to begin to get children interested in learning if I can't get them to be quiet and listen. Am I one of those "incompetent teachers"?
I moved to Florida from Iowa in 1969. Iowa has one of the best educational systems in the United States. Iowa does not have county-wide school systems. Since the school systems and enrollment are smaller (usually encompassing one or two towns) the users of the system have real input. A parent easily can speak to the principal or superintendent and get a problem solved. The educational program can be tailored specifically to the needs of the socioeconomic group attending the school system.
By contrast, the county-wide school systems in the larger Florida counties are so large that the users can't have any meaningful input into the system. Bureaucracies and administration rage out of control at the expense of putting dollars into the classroom. Since the needs of the users are very diverse in a county-wide school system, the system necessarily programs for the lowest common denominator.
I have written to several Florida secretaries of education over the approximate 25 years that I have lived in Florida, suggesting there is a systemic defect in county-wide school systems, and they should work to break the systems up into smaller user-friendly groups. Each time I have received responses which essentially say that the politicians do not want to spend their political capital on this issue.
Jeffry R. Jontz
From kindergarten to college, your September issue offered an excellent and provocative examination of public education, but left unanswered whether the right changes will be made and when elementary and secondary systems can achieve a level of stability that will lower the critical rhetoric and public disaffection with a system that teaches youth skills and values for civic life and employment. Perhaps existing problems in public education should first be resolved without the introduction of supposed innovations whose outcomes are untested. It is an error to conclude issues like an emphasis on core subjects or courses cannot be undertaken under the present system. I have lost count of the number of new reforms that have been tried by the system [that were] subsequently discarded or the results of which were forgotten.
Public education should never be left just to educators and the state Legislature, though I would give educators more benefit of the doubt. Among the many issues you examine is accountability for educators, which must include those at all levels ? administrators, school boards, legislators and, most importantly, students and parents. Many students are satisfactorily educated in Florida, even though some parents are uninterested and uncooperative and some students resist learning, practice disruption and prefer indifference, or the easiest course schedule. Has anyone ever surveyed teachers to determine the amount they spend out of their own pockets, particularly at elementary grade levels, and asked why is this so?
The reach of education is so vast we must simultaneously build it up and continuously improve it. Surely there is a consensus that we need orderly and safe schools, a mastery of basic subjects, learning beyond the high school level whenever possible, and national methods of measuring the performance of students, teachers and schools without ignoring variables that produce differences. I question who now is altruistic in improving learning (process & substance) as opposed to operating with a covert agenda. If we are at a "Turning Point," how do we ever know the education of students is the real mission?
James R. Gillespie
In the August 1995 article "Is The Florida Legislature Irrelevant?" former state Representative Tim Ireland offered recommendations to improve the Florida Legislature. We found the article to be very timely.
Twenty-five years have passed since the Legislature last took a comprehensive look at the way it does business. Despite major changes over these 25 years, we have responded only in a piecemeal fashion. Eight-year term limitations, single-member districts, rapid population growth and changing demographics, a shift to a two-party state, growth of professional staff, the increase in lobbying groups and the emergence of caucuses have affected the political culture and legislative process. This institution has not kept pace.
Last session, we introduced a resolution that would have created a Joint Commission on Legislative Efficiency and Effectiveness. This resolution was enthusiastically supported by new House members and ultimately passed our chamber by a unanimous vote. We might add that this is a bipartisan issue, and we received bipartisan support in passing the resolution.
The resolution would have required a 12-member, legislatively appointed commission made up of current and former legislators and two citizens with an understanding of legislative procedures and practices.
This commission would have been charged with recommending reforms for improving the Legislature and its effectiveness and for enhancing the public confidence in the Legislature. The commission would have evaluated such areas as committee procedures and performance; ethics and election reform; the role of legislative staff, lobbyists and caucuses; the legislative session schedule; and public access to information and meetings.
Furthermore, the commission could have provided the Constitution Revision Commission, which begins its work in 1998, with recommendations for any changes needed in the Constitution relative to this area.
The proposal was modeled after the state's last major legislative reform of the late '60s and early '70s. That reform, led by such distinguished then-legislators as Reubin Askew, Lawton Chiles and Richard Pettigrew, followed the so-called Pork Chop era and brought about dramatic recommendations that made Florida the standard for excellence for representative assemblies throughout the nation.
Twenty-five years later, we face new challenges. Reforms are necessary to raise the public's confidence in their Legislature's ability to perform efficiently and effectively in the modern world. As Tim Ireland suggested, a critical assessment of the legislative process is overdue.
The creation of a Joint Commission on Legislative Efficiency and Effectiveness is a step in that direction.
We plan to reintroduce the resolution in the 1996 session.
Marjorie R. Turnbull
We would like to bring your attention to our omission from your Florida Trendline section in both your August and September issues. We would appreciate it if you could correct the problem.
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