Friday, July 19

Quick, Now is Our Chance to Kill Public Schools

duval public schools getting old
Jacksonville entered into one of the most liberal educational experiments of any city when the city basically became the county. While I am not sure forced busing was ever associated with the move, it's still fairly unique as an attempt to bring all the awesomeness of the suburban schools into the city schools. Problem is that the suburbs are now, basically, in other counties (St. Johns and Clay), and that's where all the Duval educational hope has run to. What if, instead of throwing $2 billion into Duval Public Schools, we step back and see how we can do it all different once again? I'm wondering what our unique version of public schools might be today.



Consolidation 2.0


Sure, we could go to St. Johns and Clay and say we want in. A combined school school district covering 2,300 square miles. Basically the same size as Miami-Dade (except half of it's area is Everglades). Milwaukee asked for this sort of opportunity to combine with the rich suburbs for years. And since Duval already did this once, it's probably not even on the table. I guess I thought I'd remind everyone that since Jacksonville was really a trailblazing city in trying to save public schools here once, maybe some lessons were learned.

Technically, the city of Jacksonville has a huge percentage of the high-paying jobs AND all these new suburbs get out of such nuisances as Section 8 housing and public transportation, so there should be some way to equalize the educational systems. Basically, people leave the city to avoid the problems and find better schools, but their pocketbooks are very tied to the city, and the city has to recognize this without totally alienating those who have moved away. Good luck, since this is pretty much standard in every major metro.



UnConsolidate 1.0


So all the integration lawsuits and whatnot have gone away. Our neighborhoods in Duval are integrated to some degree, and busing is expensive and relatively stupid. Some of the highest ranked schools are in high-crime areas, and kids who live there take buses to low-performing schools. It's all a circus in order to pretend the school system works, and everyone pretty much knows that. If we UnConsolidate, the best schools will be in the best neighborhoods. I'm fine with paying for programs, police, extra teachers, charter schools, or whatever for failing schools in lower-income areas as long as my kids can attend a legitimately good school near me. I almost hate to be a snob, but we left good schools in Wisconsin and Kansas to come to Florida, where education is anything but a top priority. And we live in a county that does not have a good reputation even within that state. Like most people who have the means, I'll move my family to St. Johns before I'll send them to a joke of a school in Duval.  And I don't even believe that St. Johns schools are all that special for all the talk, but at least they'd be on par with the Shawnee Mission schools back in Kansas or the Brookfield Schools in Wisconsin.

Kill em All 

Yes, now would be the time to kill all local public schools and start over with something new. Back when I got let go from public school teaching, I suggested everyone else (mostly getting paid a lot more than myself) also get let go so that schools could start over with lower salaries. Sure, there was some spite in that suggestion, but I have also met some head-in-the-sand public school teachers in Duval who don't worry much about job security, even as schools don't perform well and the best kids move away or get siphoned off by charter schools.  Or we could sell the schools to charter schools (I think that's the city council / mayor's plan), not unlike the JEA plan. Charter schools like operating in mini-malls and other obscure places, probably because it's easier to get out fast, so we could just tear down the schools to build some more housing, and let charter schools figure out the whole problem of facilities.

I'm not REALLY in favor of something like this, but now would be the time to think very big. $2 billion is huge when it's all about just rebuilding bad schools that have students leaving every year. Are you saying that for $2 billion, we won't even get a few boarding schools to house kids who would be better off away from home? Are there any brand-new buildings for those of us on the (somewhat) wealthier side of town, or is all the money just to rebuild old-ass schools where all the infrastructure is already dilapidated?

Basically, will a $2 billion investment somehow create a situation where Duval can compete with St. Johns for the wealthiest clientele? Follow me on this one, since it's important. When new subdivisions go up at the current rate in St. Johns and Clay for a few more years, we will see a strong desire on the part of these people (with jobs in Jacksonville) to try to find a place closer to work. That is a natural progression in urban sprawl. If Jacksonville's investment in schools takes this future desire into consideration, I wonder how it might change the needs for the same money.



What Then?

Jacksonville might be the only city in the country in a position to try out the straight-up capitalist model for education (choice/charter/private/vouchers). It also might be time to move good schools out of crappy neighborhoods. It might be time to invest in the schools in Duval's version of suburbia. Or maybe getting new schools will turn around our worst schools for some reason. No matter what, I look forward to a bold new plan that isn't just the typical money pit public school solution.

I do know that the worst thing that can be done is to just throw money at a system that doesn't work. The current plan asks for $15,000 for every student enrolled in Duval's schools. I'd bet that most of those families would be perfectly happy sending their kids to the same old, falling apart schools if they got a $15,000 check for each kid enrolled in public school. Heck, I'd enroll my kids for that.

I wonder, however, if anyone's asked the question of current students and graduates. THE question that all this money is supposed to answer: What parts of attending Duval Public Schools made it difficult for you to learn? That's the $1.9 billion question, really. As a graduate of Milwaukee Public Schools, I can tell you that my answer would have been about:
  • Students fighting during lunch or in the hallways. 
  • Worrying about getting jumped by groups of kids.
  • Disruptive students in my classes.
  • Students who didn't care about learning in my classes.
  • Teachers who were probably awesome at one point but who were exhausted when I was there.
  • My stuff or my car getting stolen.
  • The bathrooms always being locked because of vandalism.
 My high school was built 30 years before I attended. Maybe there were some small maintenance issues, and maybe Jacksonville has much more major ones, but the point is that if I'd been asked about it, my answers would all have been about safety, security, and learning environment, not whether or not we had the newest computers, science labs, or brand-new classrooms (we didn't). Five years after attending MPS, I substitute taught in many of the schools on the North Side of town, and my answer would have been pretty much the same. Old and new schools alike seemed clean. My former middle school (now a magnet school) was a "better" school than when I went there, and the building itself was a decade older. Same desks and lockers and classrooms.

Anyhow, if the Duval School Board is forced to wait a year before the referendum is allowed to make it to the public, maybe the question above needs to be answered first and foremost. If the answer locally is all about how the schools are falling apart and nothing else, then I would totally vote for the money needed to fix the central problem of education in the city. If it's more about people than places, however, then maybe the answer isn't as simple as brick and mortar.



Thanks for reading. See more of my content:

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Mancrush Fanclub - Why not?
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