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Posts tagged ‘education’

Being a grown up is bad.

Let’s be clear. I love being an adult, but I have no intention of ever growing up. Just in case anyone was confused on that matter (insert short jokes here–I’m 5’2”)…

Being grown up seems to mean settling: settling down, settling for, to settle with… I don’t want to be settled. I am forever disrupted and39thBirthdayParty disruptive, playing in mud, intentionally taking long walks in the rain, exploring, discovering, creating and playing. I want to be with playful, creative, inspired people. Instead of getting exhausted from encountering another barrier, I prefer getting excited about what I can do with it–maybe we can paint it, decorate it and enjoy it. Maybe we can figure out how it works and use its power for our gain–to better the world or at least our inner-world. Maybe we can be its friend and realize it was never a barrier in the first place–it just seemed that way because it was different, and we didn’t understand it.

Nah–I’m not going to grow up. Not ever.

Florida’s charter schools are in danger of extinction while Broward County is paving the way through corruption

Florida’s charter schools are in deep need of funding to be able to sustain let alone grow and build as an increasingly popular education choice within our state. While Florida lawmakers agree that charter schools are in need of renovations, equipment and software, they also have rejected a proposal that school districts say would take money from their traditional public schools and give it to charter schools.

For anyone not familiar with charter schools in Florida, these are public schools of choice available within public school districts that do not charge a tuition. They are very popular and are among the fastest growing school choice options in the state. The purpose of charter schools is to offer more effective, innovative programs and choice to diverse groups of students. Most offer students a concentration on a specific field of study such as the arts, criminal justice, medical studies, etc. while still ensuring that core curriculums of math, sciences, and English are prioritized.

Since 1996, the number of charter schools in Florida has grown to over 400 in 2010 with enrollment reaching well over 175,000 students. Many students move on to wait lists to address the increasing popularity of this choice compared to the number of slots available.

Unfortunately, while charter schools are public schools, they do not currently receive funding in the same manner from the state and districts as traditional public schools do.

“How do we treat all our public schools fairly? At this point I don’t see legislation that has completely satisfied that question,” said Rep. Marti Coley, (R-Marianna).

“We have many policy issues that need to be discussed,” she said. “And that is how do we treat all our public schools fairly? At this point I don’t see legislation that has completely satisfied that question.”

Florida education advocacy groups including Citizens for Strong Schools, Fund Education Now, Save Duval Schools and Support Dade Schools issued this statement today praising the House Pre-K-12 Committee for defeating Rep. Janet Adkins’ amendment to HB 903 to allot funding to charter schools:

[The] bi-partisan vote in the House Pre-K-12 Committee was a bold rejection of Rep. Adkins’ goal to hand our hard-earned public tax dollars over to for-profit charter developers to buy or improve private assets.  This is the second failure by the House to pass this measure which was stripped from HB 903 by House K-20 Innovations days ago. Members of our alliance testified against companion bill SB 1852 last week in the Senate K-12 Education committee.  That bill still gives public tax dollars away to for-profit corporations to buy and maintain assets the public will never own.  We oppose any and all efforts by politicians to turn tax dollars over to private corporations who value profit over the children we love.

This issue has regretfully become a battle with Florida school districts pitting themselves against charter schools and the funding they need to survive.

One county’s ordeal—Broward County School Board deemed corrupt by the Florida Supreme Court

In Broward County, FL, issues of funding charter schools have reached a fever pitch of allegations leading to the Florida Supreme Court concluding that corruption was indeed present within the Broward County School Board and district. As published in FINAL REPORT OF THE NINETEENTH STATEWIDE GRAND JURY IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA Case No: SC09-1910:

The evidence we have been presented concerning the malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance of the Broward County School Board (Board) and of the senior management of the Broward County School District, (District) and of the gross mismanagement and apparent ineptitude of so many individuals at so many levels is so overwhelming that we cannot imagine any level of incompetence that would explain what we have seen. Therefore we are reluctantly compelled to conclude that at least some of this behavior can best be explained by corruption of our officials by contractors, vendors and their lobbyists. Moreover, many of the problems we identified in our inquiry are longstanding and have been pointed out by at least two previous Grand Juries.

The county’s charter schools legal representatives painted a clear evidentiary picture of specific management problems found and detailed in the report, which included: 1) lack of accountability; 2) lack of disciplinary authority; 3) infighting; 4) lack of training and standardization for inspectors; and, 5) inadequate record keeping.

As a result, the Florida Supreme Court concluded that, “for the Constitutional mandate that requires an elected School Board for each District, our first and foremost recommendation would have been to abolish the Broward County School Board altogether.”

Testimony from mid-level management provided to the Court cited explanations that “they can’t discipline or fire lazy, incompetent workers.” Further testimony and evidence revealed, “Whistle blowers and other malcontents who expose flaws in the system and lack of leadership find themselves transferred out of their positions to less desirable ones, even outright fired…”

The Final Report of the Grand Jury also included the fact that “The [School Board] has authorized the spending of billions over the last 10 years and has saddled Broward taxpayers with $2 billion in long term debt, and yet [the county has] thousands of empty seats at under enrolled schools in the eastern portion of the county and critically overcrowded schools in the western part of the county.”

The final conclusion of the Supreme Court, described as what might be the worst example, “it is our conclusion that there was a deliberate, conscious effort by senior officials of the District in collusion with or at the direction of certain Board members to avoid the timely filing of an updated Plant Survey with State Department of Education between 2006 and 2008 for the express purpose of continuing what was by then an out-of-control badly mismanaged construction program. This was in our view driven mostly out of a desire to benefit contractors and the political fortunes of Board members. The result of this effort is an abundance of empty classrooms, mostly in the east, $2 billion in debt in critically overcrowded schools in the western part of the county.”

How these grievous issues within the Broward County School District relate to charter schools is that the charter school system doesn’t get as much money for building its funding, while the district is busy purposefully mismanaging the funding it receives, as it was determined by the Florida Supreme Court cited above.

Additionally, city officials have maintained for years that Broward should pay the several million for police officers in schools for school safety and should contribute some funds for building improvements to help ensure sustainability of charter schools.

Legally the district is not responsible for covering these costs, but it could. It currently pays half the city’s police officer cost. And, courts have ruled that the county district doesn’t have to help with building funds for the charter schools.

Yet, as reported by South Florida Sun-Sentinel, June 12, 2011 by Ariel Barkhurst:

The city-run charter school system of Pembroke Pines [in Broward County] seems a dream come true for many parents, with an A for academics from the state and graduates’ college-attendance rates in the high 90s.  It serves about 5, 600 kids, and has a waiting list 12, 205 kids long. But it’s almost out of cash, and sinking fast.

The five schools together face a $5 million budget deficit. Revenue is down from $50 million to $44 million; expenses haven’t decreased by much. And they only have about $5.6 million in savings. That doesn’t leave much of a safety net.

City officials are considering cuts to close the gap. They might not buy new science text books, a move City Manager Charles Dodge admits will probably negatively impact student science FCAT scores.

 For charter schools to remain a viable choice for students and families, it is critical that the issues of equality in funding allocations be sorted out. Otherwise this innovative, proven successful education choice may no longer be an option in many Florida communities.

Unedited version above… for editied version published in SaintPetersBlog, visit here:

Pinellas County presents the “Learn and Succeed Network”–New focus on education from cradle to career

Link to full article here:

Education from cradle to career: Learn and Succeed Network

I was invited by the JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas County and the Health and Human Services Coordinating Council for Pinellas to conduct a one-on-one interview with David Lawrence. Who is David Lawrence? He is the former publisher of the Miami Herald and head of The Children’s Movement of Florida. When I sat down with Lawrence, he began to interview me at once. He wasn’t subtle about it, and I didn’t resist. I was intregued–having been with myself my whole life, I’ve never found myself to be very interesting. I’m curious when others do.

Anyway, the few questions I did present to Lawrence ended with me being extended an invitation to attend a small, invitation only meeting–a gathering of some very influential leaders in Pinellas County spanning nonprofit, government and business sectors. It was here that I learned a little about the formation of the Health and Human Services Coordination Council’s establishment of Learn and Succeed Network, but more why the formation of this Network is of critical importance to our community.

From the article:

Lawrence has researched and stays up-to-date on many compelling facts to make his case for children in Florida. He reported alarming facts about the state of education right now. These facts illustrated enormous need in that 28 percent of third graders cannot read proficiently, and 3/5 of eighth graders are not reading at grade level. About 80 percent of childcare is nothing more than storage and warehousing with little to no education and learning taking place. When 90 percent of a child’s brain growth ends at the age of five, it is clear that early learning is critical to the future success of our county and its children.

Lawrence also is a man of intriguing etiquette, fully knowledgeable on Pinellas County statistics as well. He knew his audience. He went on to discuss some of the strengths that Pinellas County has, which can be leveraged to make an impactful change for this initiative, including diminishing unemployment, a manageable population growth rate, higher than most Florida counties’ per capita income, strong foundation and infrastructure.

Lawrence also mentioned that Pinellas County has in its midst a pioneer for children’s services—the JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas—which was the first children’s services council in Florida. JWB has served as a model for the other 10 children’s services councils in the State.

Yet, while Pinellas County has many strengths, one overarching concern that commonly plagues discussions about education is finances. The cost of reform and new initiatives is a marked concern across the nation, state and even locally.

Recently, Governor Rick Scott allocated an additional $1 billion to education for the State. At first glance, that may seem like a helpful move, but it isn’t. In February of last year, Governor Scott cut Florida’s education budget by $1.3 billion. Now that $1 billion has been added back, the State is still $300 million behind while the State has approximately 30,000 additional students to serve. Additionally, as property taxes support schools, and as property is valued far less than it was two years ago, this is even more revenue subtracted from education.

While this does sound dismal, hope rests in the fact that Pinellas County considers education and children a priority. Lawrence said, “It is not that [we] lack resources. The resources need to be reallocated to reflect the priorities of the people.” Lawrence stresses that for education reform to really be effective there cannot be a focus on “those kids—the disadvantaged ones, the minorities, the ones living in poverty. The focus must be on equality—equal access to high quality education, resources and opportunities of all children.”

One sixth of our schoolchildren are living in poverty and about 50 percent qualify for free or reduced lunches. Many of these same children come to school with more base problems that trump the need for reading, writing and math today such as food insecurity, homelessness, neglect, etc. Schools must then divert its role away from education to managing social problems and triaging issues.

In the end, all of this knowledge needs to translate to change. And this is what the Learn and Succeed Network is hoping to accomplish. The biggest return on investment is in early childhood development. This knowledge is echoed even through St. Petersburg College President William Law. Dr. Law states that even St. Petersburg College is examining pre-kindergarten and elementary school as an initiative, because it is the foundation of all education. Beyond this, career training, apprenticeships and diploma programs are being examined to provide greater employment opportunities to provide a smoother transition from education into careers.

As for the Learn and Succeed Network, it is currently under rapid development. I was invited by the JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas and the Health and Human Services Coordinating Council to interview David Lawrence and to learn about the emerging Learn and Succeed Network. I ended up attending a meeting with a select group of rather powerful individuals comprised of local leaders and business persons in Pinellas County. These individuals have been asked to consider participating with this new Network due to the wide breadth of pertinent knowledge and resources that could help ensure the Network’s success.

As a native to Pinellas County and a graduate of Pinellas County Schools, I for one am grateful for these efforts, and I hope for much success as the Learn and Succeed Network forms and begins its important work. On February 8, 2012, the first official activity of the Learn and Succeed Network will take place at the St. Petersburg College, Seminole Campus. This event will focus on creating a common agenda through identifying key goals and measures. Additionally, workgroups will begin developing strategies to achieve these goals. This is an open event and registration is required through the Health and Human Services Coordinating Council here:

America’s education system is broken. Here’s how to fix it.

America’s youths are in trouble. They are about to inherit a complete disaster. We not only broke government and our economy; allowed big corporations to go rogue gangsta, encouraging them to eat up every small business in nearly every industry; permitted several whole industries to become federally mandated organized crime (insurance, agriculture, etc.), we’ve disallowed youth to develop the tools–critical and creative thinking/problem-solving–required to fix the broken thing we’re giving them. Likewise, we have denied youth the knowledge, experience and resources needed for America to continue to sustain their position as a world leader in innovation, creativity and cultural capital.

Our current education system kills creativity, and replaces the development of critical thinking skills and applied education with solely valuing standardized testing outcomes. Tests? Test scores are the most valued outcome for today’s youths spanning elementary school through state-run universities. Test scores not ony determine whether youths with graduate from colleges in their field and progress in grade levels from elementary through secondary schools, the combined test scores of students help determine how much money a public school will get to pass on to their students. The better the test scores of the students, the more money the schools get. Supporters of this policy call it capitalism. I call it extortion, racism and classicism.

Even with all of this testing, too many American students are graduating from colleges with poor writing skills, poor math skills, poor knowledge of history, geography and sciences and applied critical thinking skills. Q.E.D. testing alone does not accurately assess the quality of a student’s education. We have many over-educated students entering the workforce who are barely capable of performing the job functions required of entry- to mid-level professional positions. This is inexcusable and a pure abuse and neglect of the collective knowledge our country has regarding best practices in education, differing learning styles and intelligences.

America’s leading minds in education, philosophy, psychology, globalization, communications, sciences, the arts, interdisciplinary studies and futurism have the answers to fixing our broken education system. Collectively, they have the answers that would lead to designing an education system that will produce students who know how to seek out and find success based on their particular skills, interests, talents, composit of intelligences and learning styles.

This will not only lead to cultivating and nurturing students who are uniquely successful in their own brand of “work,” it will revitalize America’s lead in the global community as thought-leaders, innovation designers and culture instigators. Students could have the opportunity to be a product of the best minds today and can help lead the world of tomorrow in a revolution of open-thinking, creativity and collaboration. But only if we teach them how.

If executed without regard to poison spread by special-interests and traditionalists, America may actually develop a generation of thinking, confident, empowered professionals who are as at ease in group development as they are in independent studios. They will have learned the secrets to balancing collaboration with independent thought; leadership minus hierarchy; coaching- and mentoring-figures versus authority; cooperation and celebration of greatness versus cut-throat “win-at-all-costs” competition. They will see the altruistic result in development as the goal, celebrating successes towards the mission and experience authentic shared accountability for any set-backs.

Impossible? As an absolute, certainly. As a general rule, it is quite possible. American businesses have already developed and experienced such successful models and replicated them. Yet, this is still a great minority of business practices for the very reasons mentioned above. What would serve to develop more of these models, and more forward-thinking young people in our culture to lead the way to this type of model?

A brand-new look at interdisciplinary studies is needed, at the core. The arts (visual, performing, literary, new media) are a most effective vessel to introduce youth and adults alike to applied interdisciplinary studies and to help cultivate creative critical thinking and problem-solving skills. There is also the potentiality of immersing wide generalized  and focused specific concepts from limitless disciplines: science, social science, mathematics, engineering, communications, anthropology, technology, etc.

Wake County, NC students practice for Odyssey of the Mind 2010

This is not to say that education should do away with teaching “basics,” but instead it should seek innovative ways to teach the basics by combining it with a mixture of other disciplines.

This allows for immediate applied knowledge, for students to see the inherent links in subjects, how one enhances the other and is interdependent on other subjects. Age is not a deterrent from this type of critical learning. Children learn how to measure and count while cooking–they see an immediate applied link between arithmetic and cooking. Children learn about history while learning to read–instead of having them read about Sam and Ann, have them read stories of historical significance–short, overly simplified, but an introduction to something meaningful such as Henry Ford’s car. Have them learn at a young age how to collaborate in teams and combine this with independent work to increase the overall team project. Help them “get” the concepts of shared accountability, good sportsmanship, team leadership and celebrating team successes over individual competition. The earlier these critical lessons begin, the more natural these concept become to the students as they begin developing their own ideas about leading and teamwork.

Why the arts as a vessel? They are a perfect interdisciplinary medium: Music–mathematics, languages, diction and science; Theatre–literature, history, speech and debate; Painting–mathematics (scale and measurement), social science, anthropology, communications, chemistry and history; Dance–sports, history, anatomy and physiology; Literature–sociology, history, social sciences and communications; New Media–communications, technology, engineering, mathematics and science. <– Just to name a few.

More than this, the arts allow for a creative approach to all of these subjects. They allow students to approach all of these subjects with their own brand of critical thought and experimentation while still guided by teacher-mentor-coaches to ensure that students understand the “basics” as they learn to identify and build on their strengths and weaknesses. Testing in this frame will consist of assisting in identifying personalities, talents, strengths, learning styles and less developed areas. Grading will consist of whether the student applied all of their strengths to the greatest benefit of the projects assigned, whether team or individual, and will take part in a shared portion of a group grade to promote the concept of shared accountability.

Moreover, students need to learn how to use web-based systems as communication tools–social sites and freeware: Wiggio, Project Pier, Basecamp, Mind42,, MINDOMO and Prezi, for example. This is the future–using freeware and web-based solutions in creative ways to communicate and to cultivate and share knowledge. Brining teams to the forefront of thought-sharing and mining collective intelligence for problem identification and innovative solutions. Can America dare to take a risk to think about education differently? The world has changed immeasurably over the past few decades, but what we teach, how we teach and what we expect from students has not changed at all to meet the vastly different demands of our culture. Will America dare to change? Will America dare to be great?


Note: You will notice that I have not cited my sources here to back up my claims. This is an opinion article, but the facts do exist. What I am asking for, however, is not for you to merely fact-check my claims. Frankly, I can produce “facts” that would support nearly any claim I might like to make in any direction on any topic. Instead, I’m challenging readers to judge this writing based on their logic and their own knowledge, a thought experiment. And I invite you to conduct your own research; come to your own conclusions and present your own ideas. Utopia needs your thoughts, my thoughts, our passion–not merely regurgitating thoughts and opinions of others with greater titles who may or may not agree with us.

A word on Ken Robinson’s TED Talk: Schools kill creativity.

American education is foul. There’s no doubt. We value things that don’t matter, promote things that are harmful and measure things that are worthless. In spite of this, as a nation, we tend to be a little bright and quite creative.

This is an accident and only because we are a rebellious lot. If we did as we were taught, however, we would be merely mindless drones spitting out disconnected facts, laced with convenient inaccuracies and fearful of developing anything that could be categorized as innovative or cutting-edge. Schools would have deemed this all dangerous anarchy. Well, if progress and questioning the validity and effectiveness of all that’s preached to us is anarchy, all hail anarchists!

Does school kill creativity and therefore progress, innovation and forward-thinking? Yep. It does.

Look, it’s true. But it’s not the whole story. I grew up in the folds of the fine and performing arts, and I was exposed to powerful fine and performing arts education. However, I know that my story is unfortunately unusual, and even with this environment, it was still difficult placing a high value on the arts while surrounded by traditional school values–I didn’t fit in there. I was still a bit of an outcast and fantastically misunderstood.

Radical change is needed if we have enough insight to recognize the critical need to nurture and effectively educate the creative class and creative capital in our culture. It is the creative mind that will solve problems, believe that change is possible and throw convention and barriers away to make the impossible reality.

Watch this from Ken Robinson who says that schools kill creativity. He’s right! What do you think?

Sir Ken Robinson

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