Sunday, April 22

New Duval Superintendent of Schools Sought, Not That It Matters

I remember when the major Hollywood movies about fixing schools were big: Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Summer School. Oh, and Dangerous Minds and The Substitute. All stupid. Those weren't realistic, even if they were based on somewhat true stories. And a new superintendent coming in and fixing Duval County Schools isn't realistic, either, but I guess you gotta have one.

Honestly, Jacksonville already played its hand trying to fix the schools by annexing everything and creating magnet schools. The result has been a thriving private school system in the area. I spent years studying public schools, working in public schools, and promoting public schools, only to show up in a place that has most residents shaking their heads at those schools. My kids were part of a Milwaukee magnet school (or they would not have been in MPS), and if they ever end up in a Duval County School, it will be one of the three or four that are worth the effort.

That's the way it is for most parents in a large US city. You use the public schools if they can come close to matching the private options, and it seems rare in Jax, so I'm not holding my breath that I'll get out of paying tuition anytime soon. A superintendent is just a new captain for a continuously sinking ship, and it really doesn't matter who he or she is. It could just as well be me as any of the two dozen applicants. The winner will say all the right things, won't have any experience turning around an entire school district, and will fail. Not that the new super, the principals, or the teachers are incompetent. It's just a failing proposition, and this superintendent will not have any new ideas that haven't been tried over the past 40 years in public education in large cities.

The problem is that the only way of fixing the kids is to fix the families. We have the shortest school hours requirement of any state in Florida, and even the ones with the most hours or days can't fix the families. The real answer is a system of boarding schools for all the lowest-performing students. Yeah, that's like taking them away from their homes, parents, friends, and siblings. And yes, it's expensive. And yes, it would work, but we're not going to do it, so don't worry.

The problem is that we're still trying to tell kids they need this or that to succeed. But the kids don't come from a home with that college degree or even high school diploma. They don't come from homes where education really matters. Back when everyone in my family was a farmer, my great-grandparents all had 8th grade educations. My grandparents were high school grads back when only about half our country bothered to have a diploma. Now we're trying to tell everyone that a high school education is needed, and we're allowing employers to discriminate based on that, too. Hey, if you want to leave school at 14 and you're good at fixing cars, why not work on cars, even if you can't legally drive one? There will be all kinds of Amazon fulfillment centers out there, too.

The new superintendent of Duval County Schools will be tasked with proving me wrong. Prove that every student can, will, and really wants to complete high school. Prove that a free public education matters to parents of Jax. Prove that the schools aren't driving young families to move to St. Johns County. Basically, prove that your job as superintendent matters. I still really want to believe in a liberal arts education for every American. But I also believe in healthcare for all of us, and most of us fight against that one. Just saying you believe in something doesn't make it so.

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