If school superintendent Rudy "Jabba the Hutt" Crew earned his $45,000.00 bonus last year, then his and the sycophantic school board's exploitation of the indentured servants to Fanny Mae, student loans, and a rising cost of living who are slogging it out in the classroom trenches surely earned their paltry 2,000 bucks. The average Dade County school teacher has to work 14-years to earn Crew's one year bonus. That brings his compensation up to $350,000 not including perks-- right up there near the President's ($400,000). If he lasts through his six-year contract, he will be earning $440,000 a year.
A substantial raise across the board will encourage those veteran teachers not to give up hope and join a growing number of their slacker colleagues. A raise will help recruit the non-jaded, still idealistic college graduates who will make important contributions to our community as educators down the road. A raise will help both groups cope with the high cost of living in Dade County. In fact, it may even help keep them in a county where the average home price has risen to $225,000 (HomeInsight). With starting salaries beginning at $34,200, good luck.
Yesterday's teacher protest for a wage increase is the first sign of a bigger problem facing all of us living here. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Dade County, as the 4th largest school district in the U.S., is at the forefront of a nationwide crisis in education. According to a 2000 report by the Office of Strategy Planning from the Florida Education Department, the state "will need 12,000 more teachers per year than are projected to be supplied (italics included)." But Miami Dade compounds the enormous task by asking teachers to teach in a system being pressured by other factors that you won't find in most of the U.S: overcrowded classrooms where English is a second language to many students with some arriving at their high school desk illiterate in their own language and the demoralizing and dreaded FCAT.
Again, from the same report sited above, reasons for the teacher shortage are attributed to:
- Increasing numbers of teachers entering retirement,
- Pre-retirement-- 9% of new teachers quit in their first year while 1-out-5 quit within the first 3 years,
- New class size limits set by the state coupled with a growing population.
- Low salaries are at the top of the list,
- Lack of support from the administration,
- Student discipline issues,
- Lack of input and decision making powers.
The Florida Comprehensive Assesment Test means well. Since 1999 it has been used to measure basic reading, writing, and math skills of kids in grades 4, 5, 8, and 10. Test results determine a school's "grade" of A through F. Dade County consistently gets the most "F" graded schools because it has the largest population of kids who speak a different language-- usually Spanish or Creole-- at home-- not the language the tests are given in. Still, across the state, test scores have risen. Unfortunately, teacher and student enthusiasm for learning has dropped because implementing FCAT in neighborhood schools where the language is primarily not English requires "teaching for FCAT," i.e, focusing on the test and allotting time during the school day to hammer home the basics in order for kids in those schools to catch up to the average performing kid everywhere else. The process includes rote memorization of facts and extended periods of the school day allocated to improving reading and math skills at the expense of satisfying a child's innate curiosity about the world or to explore his or her creative impulses. Art? Music? Fogedaboudit! Drudgery and repetition of the same-ol-same-ol becomes the norm until the point where both teacher and student don't want to come to school. The worst thing FCAT brought to the classroom is the killing of the human spirit but how do you measure that?
MVB would suggest the following 12 less-than-politically-correct solutions to the problems of teacher deficit and teaching kids.
- Get rid of bussing. The millions of dollars saved there can be channeled into teacher salaries,
- Sell the school busses to third world countries or turn them into an artificial reef for schools of fishes,
- School bus drivers can go to work for Metro Dade transportation as bus drivers-- this sandwiches in with the expansion of newly funded bus routes,
- The school bus mechanics can go to work for Metro Dade transportation as bus mechanics-- this compliments employing competent mechanics to keep the newly funded bus routes operating,
- Kids will go to their neighborhood schools,
- Those neighborhood schools will be segregated by sex-- boys in one wing, girls in another from elementary through high school,
- The worst schools will get the best teachers and substantial "combat pay" to teach there,
- Kids won't be coddled. Disruptive kids will be removed from the classroom,
- Chronic disruptive kids will be sent to a single elementary, middle, and high school "reformatory" where they can either languish or visit a classroom to really learn. Parents are responsible for getting them to those reformatory schools. There is no bussing, remember-- and no free rides. If they show improved social skills, they may return to the classroom,
- Take the millions used in keeping social misfits from killing themselves and others in the classroom through counseling and other programs and channel it into programs aimed at finding and helping the brightest and most creative kids achieve. (Remember, the misfits can continue to kill and maim each other in the reformatories-- they just won't be intimidating kids who want to learn in a regular classroom),
- Bring back teaching the trades in every high school because not every kid is college material,
- Reduce the administrative bureaucracy (and bloated salaries) and pay teachers a wage that tells the world that as a community we know without their indispensable work with our kids, chaos and anarchy are but a thin blue Timmony line away from destroying what we call Paradise.
Of course, our first suggestion will get blown out of the water by the Feds who require it for desegregation and the Fedfunds attached with it. But Dade County is different from most of the country. Aside from the more affluent shoreline communities, for the most part English speaking whites have fled. Where once there were white neighborhoods and cities during the beginning of desegregation in the 60's, there are now black and Spanish speaking communities and cities. The City of North Miami is a microcosm of the county. It is basically a Haitian city-- except along the shoreline which is mostly white. Significantly, Dade County also reflects the best statewide FCAT scores: the highest rated schools are in predominantly white neighborhoods because the main language there is English. Still, we haven't demanded the removal of FCAT. It has its purposes-- especially in creating future semi-literate English speaking citizens. What we are emphasizing, however, is focusing on kids who want to learn instead of those who don't. Not very politically correct for sure, but probably a lot more realistic.
UpDate (9/11/08): After months of heated acrimony between Crew and some members of the board, he resigns under pressure with the board buying out his contract for $368,000.
UpDate (9/12): Alberto Carvalho, a former teacher in the Dade County schools, accepts the board's offer to become its next superintendent.