Dear Florida: Mean People Suck

Dear Florida:

I know it is impolite to use harsh language and teachers often discourage students from resorting to cliches, but I am hard-pressed to find anything better suited to my concern about education policy in Florida (and Mississippi, and South Carolina, along with another 10+ states) than reminding political leaders and the public in your state: Mean people suck.

And as disturbing as it is when adults are mean to adults, there simply is no way to justify adults being mean to children—or in the case of misguided and uninformed education policy in Florida (and Mississippi, and South Carolina), adults being mean to some children (mostly black, brown, and poor).

I take this opportunity to reach out to you, Florida, because there is a way out of this mean streak: Fewer 3rd-graders could be held back this year.

First, let me note that the avenue to a kind and equitable education system is not examining whether or not your (yet again) new high-stakes tests are valid, but recognizing that grade retention is discredited by a large body of research and grade retention is not a credible form of literacy policy.

Notably, the National Council of Teachers of English, the largest organization of English teachers in the U.S., has a clear position statement against grade retention based on high-stakes testing:

Resolved, that the National Council of Teachers of English strongly oppose legislation mandating that children, in any grade level, who do not meet criteria in reading be retained.

And be it further resolved that NCTE strongly oppose the use of high-stakes test performance in reading as the criterion for student retention.

As well, education policies such as grade retention linked to high-stakes testing disproportionately and negatively impact black, brown, and poor children.

Simply put, grade retention as a policy must be acknowledged as punishing children for the sake of punishing children.

None the less, Florida has become a flawed model for educational accountability across the U.S.

So, as a life-long educator in SC, where that model is now turning my home state into yet another place where mean people suck, I ask that Florida end grade retention and use your ill-got influence to start a new trend in education reform—one that rejects punitive education policy and chooses instead to treat all children with dignity, to provide all children an equitable opportunity to learn.

2 comments

  1. Lloyd Lofthouse

    I think we can predict the future of the United States by looking back at the trend of privatizing the public sector.

    During the Reagan Presidency, a hate war against labor unions was launched with a gusto, the public sector privatization era and trickle down economics became a reality and we saw the publication of a fraudulent and flawed report called A Nation At Risk.

    What has happened since Reagan became a god to millions of conservative Americans?

    From 1920 to 1980, the prison population the U.S. never broke 500,000. Then after 1980, the prison population skyrocketed from less than 500,000 to almost 2.5 million today.

    The 1980s ushered in a new era of prison privatization. With a burgeoning prison population resulting from the War on Drugs and increased use of incarceration, prison overcrowding and rising costs became increasingly problematic for local, state, and federal governments. In response to this expanding criminal justice system, private business interests saw an opportunity for expansion, and consequently, private-sector involvement in prisons moved from the simple contracting of services to contracting for the complete management and operation of entire prisons.

    Private prisons spend millions annually on lobbying. What are they lobbying for? A 2011 report found that the private prison industry spent millions seeking to increase sentences and incarcerate more people in order to increase the industry’s profits.

    Imagine what the U.S. will be like after all the public schools have been privatized. I wonder how many private sector prison corporations will also own corporate Charter schools in poor communities. After all, these corporations have to keep the profits flowing from the public trough and if they own the schools that feed their prisons, that just increases the profits two fold.

  2. Sandy Stenoff

    It is astounding that the only reason that Florida’s third graders have been given a reprieve (this year only), is not because it is sound educational practice, but because of the disastrous rollout of a new, as yet unvalidated test.

    I recently came across a housing program with desirable financial terms – only for properties that are located in school zones where the high school has an “A” rating. How’s that for modern day segregation?

    Corporations are courted to relocate to Florida, using fourth grade reading scores as proof of the efficacy of our education system. However, fourth grade reading scores are deceptively bolstered by keeping low scorers out and retaining them, so that they can score better the following year. Meanwhile, children, who would have been better served by promotion and appropriate intervention, become another drop out statistic waiting to happen.

    Florida spends five times more on corrections than it does on education. There are more for-profit prisons in Florida than in any other state in the nation. The school to prison pipeline is alive and well in Florida. Our poorest, black and brown children are the most vulnerable and at risk of becoming lost in this labyrinth and the least likely to have access to the support and resources to find their way out.

    Third grade retention based on testing was the cornerstone of Jeb Bush’s ill-advised education policy. It has wrought havoc in our society in far greater ways than the average parent or voter has considered. It is chilling to imagine what more public education could be subjected to and what the ultimate cost to our democracy would be, under a Jeb Bush presidency.

    Thank you , Paul Thomas, for always saying it plainly so that others may see it clearly.

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