Education denial

by Michele K. Jones
Published in The Independent Florida Alligator on Nov. 19, 2001

Florida’s education system has deteriorated in the last 10 years, but no one seems to care. At least the state’s leaders do not seem to.

A study performed by the St. Petersburg Times shows Florida ranks 38th in school funding per-student, 43rd in student-teacher ratio and 49th in high school graduation.

This is extremely disappointing given Florida is one of the largest and most politically influential states in the country. When a state possesses a large percentage of the country’s population, it bears the responsibility of educating a large percentage of the nation’s children.

This is a heavy burden and one Florida should not take lightly. Unfortunately, several state leaders don’t understand the need for a strong and competitive education system. Even more disappointing than the results of the Times study is the reaction of Florida politicians upon hearing about the disastrous rankings.

Gov. Jeb Bush stated he is not concerned about the way Florida measures up to other states as long as progress is made within Florida itself.

“Comparing state to state is not as important to me as progress in our state,” Bush was quoted as saying. “I think kids are better off in our state.”

Really, Governor? Exactly what makes you think so? Back yourself up with some information, please. It seems logical that if Florida is slipping in its already low rankings, then apparently the state’s schools are not progressing at an appropriate rate.

State Rep. Jerry Melvin, R-Ft. Walton Beach, is even deeper in denial than the governor. The chairman of the House’s education committee, the Council on Lifelong Learning, is particularly unconcerned about the overcrowded classrooms indicated by the high student-teacher ratio.

“That’s a stupid fact to use anywhere in education," Melvin reportedly said. ”There’s absolutely no study anywhere in the nation . . . that says the class size makes any difference in student achievement. All it is, is a program that’s put out by the teachers’ union and a few of the socialists that just want to spend money."

God forbid we spend money educating the future of our country. Furthermore, there are countless studies that prove class size significantly affects student achievement. Think tanks, state departments of education and universities around the country have been saying it for years.

For example, a report out of the Center for Education Research, Analysis, and Innovation at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee recently showed smaller class sizes allows teachers to utilize more effective teaching methods that do not work well in large classes.

So, why aren’t Florida’s leaders listening to what all the experts say? Perhaps they are afraid of admitting the truth.

Education in Florida has been in turmoil for years and this recent study just reinforces that fact. Both Democrats and Republicans have been in charge and bear the responsibility for the problems that impede the achievement of Florida’s children.

Education is not an issue for leaders to get defensive about. It is not a topic around which to circle the political wagons. When faced with bad news, Florida’s leaders should own up to the problems of the state and make plans to fix what is broken.

Ignoring the problem will not make it go away.