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Guest Series: Irvin PeDro Cohen, New Town Success Zone

Metro Jacksonville consistently offers the opportunity for our readers to absorb the editorials, personal accounts, and vocal opinions of some of the key players in the decision making process of our community. This week, New Town Success Zone Director Irvin PeDro Cohen explains the state of public education in Jacksonville and Florida.

Published March 16, 2012 in News      27 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


feature

As with any of my musings they always seem to come at those moments when my body and mind are at conflict regarding the need to conduct physical exercise as if I am training for mini camp with a NFL franchise or worst yet a MMA fight.  In light of that mental and physical battle I offer you this commentary regarding the state of education as I see it. However, before I do I offer you these sobering statistics:

• 42,000,000 adults are illiterate meaning they can not READ

• Every 26 seconds a young person drops out of school

• 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts

• 2/3 of the students who can not read by the end of the 4th grade will end up in jail or welfare

• 85% of all who enter the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate

• 40% of minority students fail to graduate with their class.

If you are anything like me you find this not only heartbreaking, but a tragedy in light of the work that some of my friends who are educators are doing.  See what I have come to understand is that education like every other American enterprise from cars to real estate to good ole heaven has become profit centers and as any good capitalist would tell you there is money to be made and people are getting paid, especially when you factor in all of the profiteers here in the State of Florida with the FCAT.

Schools are no longer centers of intellectual curiosity as they may have once been.  In less than 15 years schools have been transformed into test mills that process young people into lines that ultimate suggest prison or college and do very little to prepare them for anything in between.  Matter of fact in a recent paper I wrote regarding high stakes testing I pointed out that within the last 10 years (1997-2007) the economics of the testing industry and all of the spin offs have gone from a $260 million dollar a year industry to an $700 million dollar a year industry (Supovitz, 2009).

The unfortunate state of today’s formulated education system is that it is created to push square pegs into round holes without addressing all of the many variable factors that make young people round, square, triangle and any other number of geometric shapes.  The frightening part about it is young people are realizing this fact earlier and rebelling against a system that has insisted on defining them by a test that has no implications on their abilities to compete in a global economy.  Matter of fact researchers Donnor & Shockley suggested that standardized test are neither indicative nor representative of whether a person can apply or transfer the information they know in other settings (Donnor & Shockley, 2010).  
 
Moreover, while we test our way into nowhere American children are falling further behind their global counterparts in reading and math.   Therefore, leading kids down the path of forced servitude via America’s prison system.  However, the shortsightedness of all of this is that the prison system takes all comers and as our education system crumbles around us no one will be able to escape its impact.
 
I AM Irvin PeDro Cohen

That’s My Truth and I AM Sticking To It.
 
Sources:
Donnor, J.K., Shockley, K. G. (2010).  Leaving Us Behind:  A Political Economic

Interpretation of NCLB and the Miseducation of African American Males, Educational Foundations, pp 43-54.

Supovitz, J. (2009).  Can High Stakes Testing Leverage Educational Improvements?

Prospects From the Last Decade of Testing and Accountability Reform, Journal Education Change, Vol. 10, pp 211-227. DOI 10.1007/s10833-009-9105-2.




About Irvin PeDro Cohen

Irvin PeDro Cohen is the Director of the New Town Success Zone www.newtownsuccesszone.com a community collaborative initiative largely based upon the work of Geoffery Canada and the Harlem Children Zone.  The goal of the New Town Success is to build a continuum of care for young people and their families living in the New Town/College Garden area of Jacksonville and lead children on a path to either college, the military or some other form of post secondary training.  

PeDro is a Jacksonville, FL native and a graduate of William M. Raines High School.  He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Florida (UNF) and his MBA from Pfeiffer University and is currently a doctoral student at Nova Southeastern University.  

PeDro also serves on the advisory board of the Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys, the University of North Florida’s Dean’s Education Advisory Council, the University of Florida CTSI Community Advisory Board, he is a member of the Jacksonville Chapter NAACP and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated Jacksonville Alumni Chapter.

PeDro is a frequent radio commentator.  His blog can be seen at www.irvincohen.com.  He is also in working on his most extensive work “A Charge to Keep:  The Role of the African-American Church in Social Outcomes in a Post Civil Rights Era.”









27 Comments

Garden guy

March 16, 2012, 07:32:04 AM
The educational system has not failed the students ..parents have failed their children. If parents were truly responsible for their creation we'd not be dealing with this.

buckethead

March 16, 2012, 09:24:51 AM
You wacky right wingers....

JeffreyS

March 16, 2012, 09:32:53 AM
Ok Mr. Cohen any suggestions for change to the system or is this just a complaint.  How would you like the system to look and how should we gauge student success? While I agree too much emphasis has been placed on standardized testing students need to be prepared for college. Even if at fifteen they do not have an interest in college they need to be prepared for that path.  If you want to see me and President Obama as snobs on this feel free.

jaxlore

March 16, 2012, 09:38:55 AM
Good article. Education in this country is a mess. You can't expect uneducated parents to consider education a priority of their children, so until you find a way to address the problem as a whole blaming the parent’s does nothing to fix a problem which devastates a society.

bill

March 16, 2012, 11:26:12 AM
Unions continue to destroy everything they control

John P

March 16, 2012, 01:16:59 PM
Schools are schools. What has changed are the children entering the schools and how they are supported and taught at home.

IamAmerican

March 16, 2012, 02:10:52 PM
@john p, I think I see what you are trying to say and I think it's ridiculous. Blaming failing schools on failing homes only allows schools to continue to fail...because there isn't much a school can do to fix a student's home. Even if it is the case that a student's home based support is the reason for educational failures, that only means our educational system it going to need some real innovation from educational leaders to save the day. They (WE) are still responsible to educate even when the variables have changed! We expect the same from our police, our military, even our garbage pick-up services...and anything else government related.

Saying, "schools are schools" negates the giant organizational processes that create our current education system. Schools are not elemental, unchanging natural resources. We're not talking about coal or oil, here. We are talking about man made systems that are failing. You can say, "coal is coal" it's how we are processing the coal that has changed...but you can't say that for schools (and make sense).



stephendare

March 16, 2012, 02:37:43 PM
Unions continue to destroy everything they control

Huh??

Garden guy

March 16, 2012, 05:26:50 PM
@john p, I think I see what you are trying to say and I think it's ridiculous. Blaming failing schools on failing homes only allows schools to continue to fail...because there isn't much a school can do to fix a student's home. Even if it is the case that a student's home based support is the reason for educational failures, that only means our educational system it going to need some real innovation from educational leaders to save the day. They (WE) are still responsible to educate even when the variables have changed! We expect the same from our police, our military, even our garbage pick-up services...and anything else government related.

Saying, "schools are schools" negates the giant organizational processes that create our current education system. Schools are not elemental, unchanging natural resources. We're not talking about coal or oil, here. We are talking about man made systems that are failing. You can say, "coal is coal" it's how we are processing the coal that has changed...but you can't say that for schools (and make sense).
Scools are only failing because students scores suck...thats the students fault...keep on kissing the ass of these children and this will continue.

IamAmerican

March 16, 2012, 09:15:23 PM
Leave it to the column on education to bring out the most ignorant comments I have read on Metro Jacksonville, ever.

I'm only hoping that Garden Guy was being sarcastic..."schools are only failing because students scores suck..." No one is talking about kissing the student's ass. Whether our schools are kissing ass or beating it...they are failing. To blame the recipients (students) in those institutions is foolish and again, negates the responsibility of our educational system. Maybe, Garden Guy, the problem is that we kiss the students ass...guess what? That's our fault. I'm not sure how you can read what I wrote and respond with your comment. Except, that you (like me) had a public school education. In which case, I'll kiss your ass and say it's not your fault.

I keep thinking of military analogies...and it is somewhat applicable in terms of the excuses we make. If we heard a military officer say our military is failing (if it was failing - let's stay on topic) because 1)the soldiers come from bad homes 2) because they are lazy 3) because veterans groups have too much power 4) because of MTv, hip hop and punk rock...none of those excuses would be acceptable to any of us. The role of the military is to make sure that the people in the military are awesome.

We have institutions of learning all across this country that house students for 8 hours a day and their primary prerogative is to educate. Then you (and many others) have  the audacity to blame the families, the students, or pop culture (for that matter).

There is no room for blaming externalities. It is the institution that is failing. We should fully expect the leaders in the public system to grow a set of balls/breast (equal opportunity, here) take responsibility and fix the problem. You and I have to be the people that force the internal changes before we willingly blame everything but the system that is literally creating serious failures in education. 

A response like:

"Schools are only failing because students scores suck...thats the students fault...keep on kissing the ass of these children and this will continue..."

Is exactly what we don't need to finally become an educational system that, well, educates. I mean, wow...I'm kinda in a state of shock. You're blaming the fruit (the students) for what the tree (the schools) are producing.

buckethead

March 17, 2012, 07:36:07 AM
It seems like someone has hijacked GG's account.

While not renown for highly sophisticated discussion, this take seems to be on the extreme opposite side of the spectrum where GG usually resides.

GG, you ok?

Will send in Bruce Willis if you can get a message to me!

Garden guy

March 17, 2012, 08:04:22 AM
It seems like someone has hijacked GG's account.

While not renown for highly sophisticated discussion, this take seems to be on the extreme opposite side of the spectrum where GG usually resides.

GG, you ok?

Will send in Bruce Willis if you can get a message to me!
Im great and thanks for asking..ive just watched as parents allow their babies rule the roost and i ave many many teacher friends..the nightmares i have heard about these kissass parents is rediculous. And i appreciate your compliments..what a great neighbor you must be...

Fallen Buckeye

March 17, 2012, 01:32:50 PM
I'm one of those educators on the frontlines. I have spent my whole career working at elementary schools in some of the poorest areas of Jacksonville. I really think that there is some validity to what you are saying. The current culture of high-stakes testing and ever-changing standards has not done much to improve the education of our children.

Students are at the mercy of a single week's worth of testing to decide their educational fate despite the fact that studies show that a child's cognitive development is not a simple linear progression. Studies also show that retaining students often has little benefit for most children. There may be a short term positive effect, but over time children who are retained in an earlier grade fall behind again. So for example if they repeat 3rd grade they may do better in 3rd grade the second time through, but come 4th and 5th grade the learning deficits return. And while it does little to help, being retained makes it somewhere between 5-11 times more likely that a child will drop out of school. Yet, many students face mandatory retention for failing state tests. That's a decision that needs to be carefully weighed out by parents and teachers. on an individual basis. So my question is how does some paper pusher in Tallahasee or DC know what's better for our children than parents or teachers?

All of the government regulation implies that the state has more of an interest in our children than their families! Effectively, the state has taken authority away from the primary stakeholders, or, as I like to say, they have taken families out of the game. Accountability is very important, but the teacher should be most accountable to families that they serve. I mean who cares more about your child, you or the government? There has to be a better way that we can equip parents with the information that they need to be able to make informed decisions about their child's education.

Jaxson

March 18, 2012, 02:35:52 AM
Contrary to what a previous poster claims, unions do not run the roost in a state that has been under one-party rule since Jeb Bush was governor.  The state leadership, however, in a power grab to subvert the power of local governments has used unfunded mandates and draconian testing to shift to cost of education to the counties. 

ronchamblin

March 19, 2012, 02:36:13 AM
Post by Cohen:

“Schools are no longer centers of intellectual curiosity as they may have once been. In less than 15 years schools have been transformed into test mills that process young people into lines that ultimate suggest prison or college and do very little to prepare them for anything in between. Matter of fact in a recent paper I wrote regarding high stakes testing I pointed out that within the last 10 years (1997-2007) the economics of the testing industry and all of the spin offs have gone from a $260 million dollar a year industry to an $700 million dollar a year industry (Supovitz, 2009).”

Yesterday, I talked with a retired Douglas Anderson teacher.  He stated that some at DA are leaving “teaching”, not wishing to engage the tons of paperwork and the excessive, structured testing.  This was interesting because I’ve been saying for years that the paperwork I’ve heard teachers talk about, and the lack of freedom given the teachers would push me to another profession.

Instead of forced and structured lessen plans and testing, which seemed to have been almost non-existent in the fifties, why not recognize the most valuable attribute of good educating, which is that of inspiring the students, of giving them the powerful “thirst” for knowledge, because if successful, one would discover that many students will almost educate themselves. 

I recall several teachers who, by their methods, by the freedom given to them in their classrooms, by the wisdom they possessed, were able to inspire, to light the fire of curiosity in us students.
The thirst for knowledge, for engaging life and all its wonders, can be like a drug, as one wants more and more.  And this drug is free. 

Our school administrators and bureaucrats shackle our teachers with over-control, tons of paperwork, and forced structured testing, but have no clue what freedom can produce among teachers.  Admittedly, freedom to some teachers gives them freedom to be mediocre.  I recall lazy teachers, uninspiring teachers.  But look at what the excessive control of teachers has produced in our schools today.  It has produced mediocrity, much like the Soviet system after decades of top-down control of so-called communism produced a shamefully inefficient system and world of poor products and uninspired citizens.  Just as these idiotic policies brought the Soviets to their knees, our idiotic school system is bringing our educational system to its knees.

The bureaucrats, let me call them idiots, in politics, in school boards, and in high levels of school administrations are, by excessive control over “teaching”, producing mediocrities in teachers, and therefore mediocre students.  A good educational system will give more freedom to teachers, will instill in them the value of inspiring the students, of lighting the fire within so that the student will thirst for learning, and can actually see where he or she is in the scheme of things, and where they might go.

BridgeTroll

March 19, 2012, 08:58:49 AM
Studies also show that retaining students often has little benefit for most children. There may be a short term positive effect, but over time children who are retained in an earlier grade fall behind again. So for example if they repeat 3rd grade they may do better in 3rd grade the second time through, but come 4th and 5th grade the learning deficits return. And while it does little to help, being retained makes it somewhere between 5-11 times more likely that a child will drop out of school. Yet, many students face mandatory retention for failing state tests. That's a decision that needs to be carefully weighed out by parents and teachers. on an individual basis. So my question is how does some paper pusher in Tallahasee or DC know what's better for our children than parents or teachers?


Fallen... much respect for you and your profession.  I have to ask about the paragraph above...  You say holding students back is a failure because when are finally advanced they ultimately fail again.  Why would advancing them on schedule not have the same result?  The main reason testing to state and federal standards was begun was because we were graduating students who were not proficient in the basics of reading, science, and math.  We were awarding diplomas for substandard outcomes.  Testing at least measures progress across the board.  I certainly agree that testing alone solves nothing if proper remediation is not provided for substandard performers...

Fallen Buckeye

March 19, 2012, 09:37:07 AM
Don't get me wrong BridgeTroll, I'm not saying that just promoting them is a solution either, but that whether to promote a students is a decision that needs to made between a family and school. I actually think that some standardized testing is beneficial, but it's what is being done with the test that is the problem. I say that the test should serve as a tool that informs the decisions of families and teachers not a tool that makes the decisions for them.

I agree with you on the remediation as well. Just imagine if instead of we had focused a couple hundred million dollars on putting in better supports for struggling students and better training teachers. I think that would have arguably been a more effective way to improve our education. We've had these high stakes in place for some time now, and we're still not seeing the results we need to be seeing.

BridgeTroll

March 19, 2012, 09:43:29 AM
Quote
but that whether to promote a students is a decision that needs to made between a family and school.

I agree... bit I think abuse of that system brought us to where we are now.  How would the system ensure that the student gets the proper remediation if allowed to advance?  What happens if once advanced the student is still not up grade level?  If the family is adamant about "little johnny" being promoted while the school thinks it is best he stay back... who decides or mediates?

Non-RedNeck Westsider

March 19, 2012, 10:21:01 AM
I would like to try an understand what is being said here.  The article, as published, is railing against the standardized testing that is implemented in the schools.  Didn't we all go to school to prepare for the ultimate 'Standardized Test' - the SAT?  That one score, after 4 years of high-school (3 if you took it early) ultimately determined what college we would be allowed to attend which would determine what career path we would be able to persue, which ultimately shaped the rest of our adult lives. 

I don't understand what all the hubbub is about.  Sure, the teachers are teaching a test.  Does that mean that the kids aren't learning to read and rite and do rithmatic?  No.  The major issue I see is that the educators are being forced to teach to the lowest common denominator - which works for the marginal kids, but holds back the ones that are truly gifted. 

The magnet programs allow some of these 'gifted' children to learn in an environment more suitable to thier abilities, even though they have to take the same test as the rest of the school.  Isn't this the reason that we have magnet programs at the borderline, failing schools, to raise the overall test average?

Fallen Buckeye

March 19, 2012, 05:15:38 PM
Quote
but that whether to promote a students is a decision that needs to made between a family and school.

I agree... bit I think abuse of that system brought us to where we are now.  How would the system ensure that the student gets the proper remediation if allowed to advance?  What happens if once advanced the student is still not up grade level?  If the family is adamant about "little johnny" being promoted while the school thinks it is best he stay back... who decides or mediates?

The family should definitely have the final say on promotion and retention. As I said earlier, I should be most accountable to those who care for their children the most: their families. I think the system as is set up in a way that actually encourages abuses because the stakes for these tests are so high. I know for a fact that there is cheating happening on some of these state mandated tests. The system is also set up so that kids who tend to move (often the ones who need the most help) actually can be basically brushed aside because they don't count towards the school's grade. We teachers are being told that we have to be strategic in who gets help because some kids count more than others. And like someone said, those students who above average students in an inner-city school like mine often don't get what they need to really flourish. In its attempt to improve equity, it has actually become a system that promotes inequity.

The best way to promote a great educational system and promote equity is to build better teachers who have the skill set to differentiate instruction to meet a child where they are at and raise them to where they need to be. Our system is not great at getting the best teachers to the areas of critical need. I'm a lead math teacher for my school, and honestly a lot of teachers do not have the training and support they need to be effective especially a lot of the teachers who come from other professions. The No Child Behind mandates really do not adequately address this area and put too much emphasis on the wrong things.

Garden guy

March 20, 2012, 07:43:54 AM
After the attack on the public system by the republicans how is any school going to survive. At every chance and at every level polititians are raping our schools of cash and just handing it over to corporate bullshit and whatever their little minds can conjure up to keep the bleeding going all the while profits are galore for corporations...and soo so many out there blameeverything on the teachers..well its not the teachers..it also little spoiled brats whose parents should never have become parents.

BridgeTroll

March 20, 2012, 09:14:51 AM
Are you a parent GG?

Tacachale

March 20, 2012, 06:37:20 PM
I would like to try an understand what is being said here.  The article, as published, is railing against the standardized testing that is implemented in the schools.  Didn't we all go to school to prepare for the ultimate 'Standardized Test' - the SAT?  That one score, after 4 years of high-school (3 if you took it early) ultimately determined what college we would be allowed to attend which would determine what career path we would be able to persue, which ultimately shaped the rest of our adult lives. 

I don't understand what all the hubbub is about.  Sure, the teachers are teaching a test.  Does that mean that the kids aren't learning to read and rite and do rithmatic?  No.  The major issue I see is that the educators are being forced to teach to the lowest common denominator - which works for the marginal kids, but holds back the ones that are truly gifted. 

The magnet programs allow some of these 'gifted' children to learn in an environment more suitable to thier abilities, even though they have to take the same test as the rest of the school.  Isn't this the reason that we have magnet programs at the borderline, failing schools, to raise the overall test average?

The FCAT is different than the SAT (or ACT). SAT and ACT are college placement tests; they're meant to be a gauge on a student's overall learning in primary and secondary education for placement in higher ed. On the other hand, the FCAT is administered every single year, and is a requirement for students to pass any grade. It also influences how schools are funded.

As such schools have the incentive to teach to the test - and schools that are already better performing get more funding.

The problem is that tests are supposed to be, well, tests, assessments, gauges. Standardized tests are just meant to give some measure of standardization across these assessments. However, we are treating them like certifications or licenses, obstacles to be passed. And by standardizing them for all students of a particular grade, we're teaching to a common denominator, regardless of individual students' skills or even what classes they're taking.

Garden guy

March 20, 2012, 08:08:42 PM
Are you a parent GG?
No thank you. There is enough breeders out there. They dont need my help.

Purplebike

March 21, 2012, 12:39:43 AM
(some very simplified thoughts inspired by the article, er, the title of the article, actually...)

The title of this very article is potentially troubling. "My truth"? Before I assume what the writer meant by "my truth", I will ask for clarification (as food for thought only):

What does the writer mean by "truth" here?
And then, by "my truth"?
Does he mean to suggest that truth is relative to the individual?
If yes, all truth, or some?

For example, take the statement "There is a pen on my table". In reference to my table, right now, that statement is either true or false. It cannot be both true and false at the same time. The truth of the statement in this sense does *not* depend on the individual. It would be silly to say in reference to the statement that it is "my truth".

If my own experience in the classroom is any indicator, I would argue that the ever growing pervasiveness of the "My truth" mindset that is a significant factor in the undermining of critical thinking in our society. 

A carefully thought out argument in support of Relativism as a moral position is one thing. Knee jerk relativism is another. Oh, good Goddess Athena (goddess of wisdom), knee jerk Relativism is the bane of my teaching existence.

...*Is* ethics relative to each individual? *Should* ethics be up to each individual?

If yes on that latter question, especially, then what are the implications? Mother Teresa and Hitler would be considered moral equals, for starters. Also, there would be no such thing as moral reform. There would be no reason to applaud MLK, in other words. Also: How would laws be possible?

...*Are* facts and evidence relative to each individual? *Should* they be considered as such? If yes...then...what are the implications for bridge building? For car building? For building or doing anything?

Anyway, I recommend brushing up on the distinction between "is" and "ought" before considering final answers to these questions. Seriously...the fact that something *is* the case does not necessarily mean something *should be* the case... (an entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalistic_fallacy)

Oh, as usual: I offer these questions as food for thought only. I apologize in advance to anyone who wants me to engage in "debate" over the answers to these questions. I don't debate. Investigate, ask question, yes. Debate, no. If you're truly interested in learning (as opposed to winning!) about the nature of ethics, truth, knowledge, etc., there are tons of very well-constructed philosophy classes at JU, UNF, and FSCJ.

There's another one of my plugs for Philosophy. Why do I plug philosophy in darn near every post I submit? Because I tentatively think the world might be a better place if everyone had a solid grounding in the critical thinking skills it teaches. Ask my students. Consistently, they report that the difference in their critical thinking abilities, from the beginning of the semester, compared to the end, blows their minds. Ah, they make me and the goddess Athena so proud!

But anyway, so, yeah. "My truth" vs. "The truth". There's a HUGE difference between them. Oy.

iluvolives

March 21, 2012, 09:16:47 AM
I think one of the issues with public schools is that it is one of the few industries in this country that has changed/progressed very little of the last 150 years, most schools still use the traditional model of 1 teacher/ 30 kids. I think this podcast
http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/12/21/how-is-a-bad-radio-station-like-our-public-school-system-a-freakonomics-radio-podcast-encore/#
addresses it well and non profits like Khan Academy are helping to address some of the issues (which gained alot of additional funding when Bill Gates mentioned that he used to to help his kids with school work)

60 minutes recently did a story on Khan Academy:
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7401696n

Fallen Buckeye

March 22, 2012, 12:14:46 PM
Actually, I think that a co-teach situation can work pretty well if you get the right combination of educators. I actually like what St. John's county has done. New teachers are hired as associate teachers, and veteran teachers are called master teachers I think. Associate teachers have lower pay and must coteach under a master teacher. It solves a lot of problems with teaching today.

I know from experience that many new teachers are really thrown in the deep end too soon. My first year teaching I was given a class that was larger than what it was supposed to be under the class size amendment and my classroom was in a completely different building from other teachers on my grade level. I was not even given all of the curriculum materials needed to teach the lessons. I know a lot of teachers will tell you that college did not adequately prepare them to run a classroom. I am a highly effective teacher now, but for those kids it was really a lost year. Now consider the fact that most of our really tough urban schools tend to have more novice teachers than suburban schools. The St. John's model gives novice teachers the support they need become effective teachers, and we have a lot less children having a lost year.

Having multiple tiers of teachers also provides opportunities for advancement that teachers really do not have today. It's a built in motivation for teachers to improve their craft (besides the altruistic motivation of wanting to best help students, of course). It is also more cost-effective which is why St. Johns County implemented it in the first place. It would also ease the administrative burden because paperwork could be split between 2 people.
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