In a recent article from the Sunshine State News, it appears that Florida’s troubled educational system is coming under fire yet again.  This time, it’s another call for teacher’s unions to be abolished and for the tenure system to be wiped clean.  It also calls FEA’s policies a race to mediocrity.  This is where I have a little trouble.

It’s not that I don’t believe that educational unions can be corrupt and have issues; nor that the tenure system needs to be totally revamped.  Both of those are facts in my opinion.  Where I have issue with are the claims that these are the reason for mediocrity.  They aren’t.

The mediocrity in education is our whole federal government policy of sticking their noses in where they don’t belong.

1. They insist on accountability (which is good), and to do so they

2. put meaningless tests in place (bad).  So now we have standardized testing which doesn’t test real knowledge – just recall. Thereby,

3. in order to meet the accountability requirements, teachers are teaching to the test.  And so, we have mediocrity.

What is even scarier than this, though, is the move to the middle.  As I watch various test scores from schools in Maryland, I’m seeing this disturbing trend.  More and more schools are using the “drill and kill” methods of math facts and sight words rather than innovative and engaging teaching practices because they want to get those test scores up.  And when the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun publish those scores every year, you see many schools steadily rising.

But what you DON’T see is the trend data that is going on.  That overall snapshot doesn’t tell you how many students are at the basic, proficient and advanced levels and how that compares to the previous year.  When you start looking at that data, what you’ll find in many cases are students that move up from basic to proficient and then down from advanced to proficient – moving toward the middle.  So test scores go up overall, but 2/3 of students are either not moving at all or moving backwards.  This is the real mediocrity of education.

Instead of placing billions of dollars each year into standardized testing that doesn’t measure true learning, why not invest in technology, innovative teaching strategies like arts integration and project-based learning, and professional development for teaching?  I can tell you that the best data I’ve seen from our arts integration program is that our students have kicked the bell curve to the curb.  Our basic students are moving up to proficient and our proficient students are moving to advanced.  I believe this is because we engage them, create connections within their learning and provide them with the tools to problem solve.Invest in researching how other countries using mentoring and teacher prep programs to see gains in student achievement.  Invest in quality administrative programs to train our future leaders in how to assess teachers and help them grow.

And then, get out of the way and let us do it.