Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A National Hero

Copy of a letter to the editor in the Orlando Sentinel.

October 15, 2006

Surprisingly, it's sanction time at our little FCAT A school here at R.J. Longstreet Elementary in Daytona Beach.

After having received five A's in a row on the FCAT, but simultaneously having failed the annual progress goal of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, we are under a sanction called "corrective action."

We are now being visited by district level "support personnel" who will monitor how we are teaching writing and math. Of course, we are teaching writing quite well, because more than 80 percent of our students got a 3.5 grade-point average or better on the writing section of the FCAT.

And our math scores were high enough to help us earn the five consecutive A grades. The problem for Longstreet originated in our district's response to the federal request for us to set up an annual progress goal.

The goal we set was one we haven't reached yet. In hindsight, knowing what we know now, we could have set a lower goal and been fine. But we didn't.

So now come the sanctions. One sanction option was to reconstitute our entire school, which would have meant getting rid of the teachers who were responsible for teaching more than 80 percent of our kids to do wonderfully on the FCAT.

When you consider that more than half our school's students come from backgrounds of poverty, our teachers performed a miracle. They were able to successfully teach the majority of our students despite these dismal odds.

I guess it didn't make good political sense to get rid of great teachers, so now we are receiving scrutiny by people who may not have the skills of those teachers over whose shoulders they are assigned to look.

What is happening is pandemic across the nation. Public education is under siege from state and federal politicos who are transforming what was once an arena of pure educational learning into a corporate state of testing.

This allowed well-connected publishing companies to gorge themselves on public school dollars in a frenzied testing environment that has been sold as "accountability" to the unsuspecting public.

Local administrators are intimidated and fearful of losing money for their districts, maybe even losing their jobs if they resist.

You can hear them saying submissively, "We just have to play along."

R.J. Longstreet Elementary School is so much better than the A repeatedly assigned to it by evaluation processes that can't meet minimal standards of reliability and validity in the real world of accountability.

It is a safe school, a community-involvement award winner, a place where kids enjoy coming to learn, socialize and play each day.

Its parents are supportive and caring.

Its biggest enemies are these tests and those behind these predatory programs that starve those in need and lavish the money saved on their corporate accomplices.

This current administration is working hard to change the face of the world into its own corrupt image, and it is succeeding in public education, the only place where a defense could have been mounted to defeat it.

R.J. Longstreet Elementary is fighting to maintain its right to educate rather than become of victim of the testing craze.

We wear our badge of sanctions proudly, knowing we are succeeding despite misguided actions.

Bill Archer is a school counselor at R.J. Longstreet Elementary. He lives in Daytona Beach.
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