Education commissioner John Winn's speech
By Times staff report
Published January 16, 2007
EDUCATION COMMISSIONER JOHN WINN’S SPEECH TO THE DROPOUT PREVENTION TASK FORCE, BELLEVIEW BILTMORE RESORT, CLEARWATER, JAN. 16, 2007
“...On Friday, as I think most of you know, I announced my retirement, effective Feb. 28 of this year. Unfortunately, that decision will not allow me to be as completely involved with this task force and the work of this task force as I would like to be, as I’m going to spend a good amount of time preparing for my successor in terms of putting together information on the Department of Education and on the various areas I think need attention. And having been in education 35 years and being in Tallahassee for 23 of those years, I have a little historical background to share also. And I’ll be doing some of that before I leave. So I can say I have a great deal of pride in the 35 years I’ve spent in education.
“My decision to retire at this time is both good for me professionally as well as personally. My daughters said they were so relieved. They thought I would never retire. They thought I would always have something yet to do. So, they’re relieved.
“It was the right time. It was made completely independently. I can’t remember the last time somebody made me do something I didn’t want to do, other than my wife and my mother, who make a habit out of that....
For those of you who don’t know me... I think I will confirm this: I always talk like this. I haven’t held anything back as commissioner of education. I’ve always tried to be honest. I expect to be honest with you this morning, and hope that in some way my thoughts and my perspective, particularly on how you move an entire state forward, and what it will take to do that, I hope that experience will help many of you who have distinguished yourselves primarily within local communities and school districts and schools. You all have distinguished yourselves in working with children who need our best support ... Hopefully, my perspective on how you move the state within a political environment - the third largest state in the nation - will be helpful.
“ ... I’ll start with the name of this task force. I didn’t really want to call it the Task Force on Dropout Prevention. Because my belief is that dropout prevention is nothing other than quality education for all. But, you know, we had to have the people of Florida understand what we were doing, and the way they understand what we’re doing is to call ourselves the Dropout Prevention Task Force.
“But it’s no small matter that we take the very broadest view of dropout prevention. And look at it within the fabric of our state education program, and our school districts and individual students. Because when we have quality education for all, then we will have addressed the dropout prevention program. You know, the Bible didn’t say that dropouts are with us forever, or will always be with us. They don’t have to always be with us. I do believe that we can find a way for every child, regardless of abilities, regardless of home life, regardless of socio-economic circumstances. I believe in the power of human beings to find a way to reach out and touch and help everyone be successful. And I think we can do that in the state of Florida.
But it’s going to take an extraordinary change. A greater change perhaps than desegregation. Because desegregation did not, in my opinion, change hearts and minds. It changed the local experience and it was certainly one of the most ground-breaking things that ever happened for educational opportunity. But it did not guarantee educational opportunity for all children. It was treated as a success, and I think we stood down as a country for too long after celebrating the success of desegregation. And despite Title I and other programs that tried to address the needs of struggling students, I don’t think we achieved that. And I think that we’re only now, as a state and as a nation, beginning to, as a matter of public policy for all of us, to address what needs to happen for every single child. And I’ll talk about that as I go through ...
“The state of Florida defines dropout prevention in a way that your first task is to change. Your task, in my opinion, is to change our definition, our operational definition and our conceptual definition, of dropout prevention. Right now, like it or not, the state of Florida’s definition of dropout prevention is to create small programs where we put kids who aren’t succeeding in school. And while there are many, many great people - dedicated, smart people - working in alternative programs around the state of Florida, the message of the state’s policy with dropout prevention ... is, “There is something wrong with the kid.” So we will put the kid somewhere else. And I believe that our system, and I’ll go through exactly how this work, has actually created that system that has caused us to, if not blame the kid, certainly causes us to hear what I have heard thousands of times - far too many times - and that is: “I can spot a potential dropout in the first grade.”
“You know what happens when you spot a potential dropout in the first grade. And you’re a first grade teacher? You guarantee it. You guarantee it. Because you have articulated exactly what will lead to that child dropping out or failing and that is that you don’t believe that child can make it. You don’t believe that child will make it. You don’t believe that child has what it takes to make it. That child does not have the parent support that will make it. And every time somebody stops that potential dropout, class by class, grade by grade, they just continue to raise those odds that it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And until we see every child as the potential for success and start realizing it is us - it is we - excuse me, last speech as commissioner and I can’t even get my grammar right - that we must look at our public education system and what our community partners need to do in order to create an environment that maximizes success, and not just talk about it, but believe it.
“You know, in 1996, when Frank Brogan and I had identified the first 158 - we don’t call them F schools, we called them critically low performing schools, I’m not sure if that was better or worse than F - the outcry from the state of Florida was, “You don’t understand the children we serve. The state doesn’t understand the children we serve. So what does that mean, when you take it apart, what does that mean? It means, we’re doing the best we can, and they just don’t have it. They don’t have the parent support, the community support, the wherewithal, the brains, the abilities, to succeed. It means, it is not our fault. And in every aspect of human endeavor, there is certain amount of blame game. I participated in it myself. It always goes up. When we were in the school, you’d blame the superintendent or the school board for not providing adequate textbooks or resources. They would blame the state.
No funding. The state would blame the federal government. There’s too many rules, regulations. It’s always a blame game because it’s not in our human nature to confess, we can do better. But there’s probably not a person in education in the state of Florida that, if they’re really honest with themselves, they could do better, including me and including you. And it really, really irritates me for somebody to tell me I’m not doing the best I can. But it’s always a growth experience or me. Because it makes me look for ways I can be better at whatever we’re talking about.”
“So, we need to shift that definition of dropout prevention and put it on the public school system, with community partners, to make it successful. And we took a step in that direction in 2000, when the Legislature - some think this was a good idea, some not - took the weighted funding per student in dropout prevention programs - which include alternative programs for students who are failing; discipline programs for students who are behavior problems; teenage parent programs for pregnant and parenting teenagers; and juvenile justice programs - these are the four programs within dropout prevention, and that defines the dropout prevention effort in the state of Florida. But those four programs combined don’t even touch what we need to happen. And they certainly don’t need to move every kid that looks like a potential dropout over to another program that, with few exceptions, historically gets less certified or under-certified teachers, little or no equipment, poor facilities and no accountability.
“Up until this year, we had no accountability - there were no school grades - for alternative programs. And we made that happen this year and all hell broke loose. You’d have thought we started over with accountability all over again. And it was the same debate, which broke my heart, and that is: You don’t understand the kids that we’re working with. I understand the kids that we are working with. And we need accountability for all sectors. And we certainly need accountability for our most struggling students.
“So how do we deal with the dynamic - the human dynamic - of potential dropouts or of failure in our schools? We start by looking at the system and saying what the system owes every child. When the state board was mandating interventions for our multiple F schools in the state of Florida, one of the things that we required was a contract with parents that guaranteed, that said we will guarantee you, parent, that your child will get A, B, C, D. And you know what? Everybody was afraid to put a guarantee on paper for our children. They were afraid to put on paper that we will provide high quality teachers and we will guarantee tutoring after school if they need it. Put things down in black and white and stand behind it, if we expect the public to have confidence in our school system. Don’t get the lawyers in and wheedle around and make it sound good, when you actually don’t ever have to deliver. We need to say to every parent and every student in the state of Florida, what we guarantee our education system will provide for them. No equivocation about it. We guarantee we will provide this. And ask for their partnership. In too many cases, we want parents to do all the guaranteeing. And we will provide them with a positive learning environment.
We’ll provide them with a lot of soft talk, but you can never find it anywhere, you can never operationally define it. We need to be able to step up and do that.”
“So I’m going to talk a little about how dropout prevention should be viewed in the big picture, as a systemic approach to quality education in the state of Florida. It begins early. One of the most terrific things we did in the state of Florida was mandate a pre-K program with a curriculum and it was an outstanding start. ..We have voluntary pre-K, which has these requirements and are funded through voluntary pre-K. We have huge, huge, subsidized child-care programs, which is just child care. You can just have students come in and play all day or whatever. But we need to move a curriculum in all subsidized child care. We need every day-care program in the state of Florida providing a developmentally appropriate program, if they are to get public money. And get students off to a start. We have a basically overall 6 percent increase in readiness this year - in one year - of pre-K. Six percent increase in school readiness. And we have to get our students primarily language and vocabulary. If they don’t have the vocabulary, learning a printed word and what it means, means nothing to them if they’ve never seen the word, never used the word, never heard the word. So we’ve got to get pre-literacy skills out there.
“However, recent research has shown - guess what? - the achievement gap between minority students and white students is greatest, I mean the best, in the early grades. That achievement gap gets wider as we go through the public school system. And yet, we’re supposed to be about removing that, eliminating that achievement gap. And it’s actually going the other way. And I think there’s a good reason for that...
“Probably the first thing we need to do in dropout prevention is build an academic base for young children. And I think we have succeeded in that in the past eight years. By that, I mean through Reading First, through Just Read Florida and through a laser focus on teaching teachers. You know, if reading teachers, I mean if elementary teachers don’t know how to teach reading, who does? Well, as it turned out, not very many people. And we had teachers teaching all sorts of theories of reading, and we started to focus on those qualities and those characteristics and those strategies of reading that are going to be effective across the board. And we’ve seen incredible, incredible increases in student achievement.
“So, if you can keep the student up with their peers, then you do not create for them an opportunity to create a whole repertoire of success behaviors that have nothing do with academics. And that are actually the antithesis of academic achievement.
“I personally believe that one of the best things we did - and you would have thought the world was coming to an end - was the third grade promotion policy. Even though there’s six different ways you can be promoted, and not pass the FCAT, it became a flashpoint for the FCAT. The students who have been under this policy continue to outperform their peers as they go through fourth, fifth, and as they entered middle school last year. They are outperforming their peers because of one main difference. And I’ve read about all there is to read on retention over the past 40 years, in terms of meta-analysis, and studies. And they all had one flaw: They did the same thing with the kid year two that they did with year one. The same. It’s like, you know, Lucille Ball and the candy machine, you know? They just keep moving the candy through, you know? And they didn’t do anything different. Well, we required - we said it was our moral obligation as educators - to do something different, to do something better, to find a way more effective. Because if a child is going to give up a year of his or her life, then we have to have something to show for it. If you’re going to say that child should spend another year, we’ve got to have something to show for it. And I have to say, our teachers came through and heard that message, and we had extraordinary improvement.
“Because here’s what happens to the child who in third grade is socially promoted. Now I’m talking about level three in the third grade. I’m not talking about grade level. I’m talking about level two, below grade level. We should be promoting only students who are level three, on grade level, to be perfectly intellectually honest with you.
“Because here’s what happens. And this starts way before. If we don’t catch students early and work with them within their environment. Because in society if somebody’s not successful in society, do we put them out of society? Well, we do if they break the law. But there is no alternative programs in society except jail or mental institutions.
There are no alternative programs to put people. Everybody has to play in society, and has to work towards being successful. So there shouldn’t be in education, except in certain extreme cases of student safety and the safety of those students around them.
“But here’s what happens: Every human being, whether child or adult, is going to find a way to maintain a certain level of self respect. Regardless of their setting. If you’re put in a setting in which you’re not succeeding, and in which you’re not getting help and shown a way to succeed, and start experience success, then here’s what you do and it’s been proven time and time again. And why we don’t do something about it as an education system is beyond me. Here’s what happens: You first begin by avoiding. What do we do as adults? You know? We avoid situations. We avoid. Whether it’s kids or adults, you know how you choose up teams? You know how you’re the last kid chosen, like me? Well, one way you do that is you avoid. It’s embarrassing being the last kid. Nobody wants to me the last kid. So I don’t show up. Okay? I spent one year popping popcorn and selling popcorn for my PE teacher because I didn’t want to be the last kid picked. I found a way to do something meaningful for myself and we are all like that. It’s a basic human survival instinct.
“So the first thing: You know, you say you can spot a dropout. Remember: You can spot a dropout by attendance at early grades. Well of course you can. So what’s the solution? Make them come to school. Remember, we haven’t done anything to help them be successful. We’re going to make them come to school and be picked last. Every day. And if we don’t think kids know when they’re in the blue birds, the yellow birds, the red birds. I was talking to a friend of mine who said I was such a bad reader they had to create a reading group just for me. If you don’t think they don’t know, we’re just walking through with our heads in the clouds. They know. They know by instinct. They know.
“And when we put them in an alternative program and say we’re going to pump up your self esteem and they look around, and they see all the same kids that were skipping school and breaking rules and failing tests. Forget FCAT. Failing every day. 180 days a year. Fail every day. How does that feel? How does it feel to fail every day? It hurts.
So you first avoid it. And not one of us has taught a class of kids at basic level, alternative level, that somebody didn’t say, “This is a class of dummies.” I guarantee you. We’ve all heard it and experienced it. So, you’re in a class of dummies. The adults of the world think I’m a dummy. The adults of the world think I can’t make it. Why should I disappoint them? But I’m going to begin working every day on a strategy to have my self worth. Okay?
Maybe that becomes being a class clown. How do I get my peers to pick me? How do I get my peers to respect me? And that is, I don’t care if you’re a little third grader or second grader, you’re going to do this. This is human instinct.
“He’s funny. He’s funny. He acts up. And holy cow, that kid’s got guts, you know? Stand up to the teacher, do something or, you know, packing the chairs, what we used to do. So then, you start doing that. And of course you know some who don’t have the personality to be exhibitionists, humorists, they begin to hide and avoid. They don’t bring their papers home. They don’t participate. They just keep their head down. And you can see them in the classroom. And of course then we spot them as a dropout, and we expect them to drop out.
“Experts in human psychology and behavior can list probably a dozen ways that kids can do that. Then they also start getting out of elementary school into middle school, then they’re going to say, you know, those of us you in juvenile justice programs have seen this a thousand times, I’m going to bring together, I’m going to get together my little group of kids who are doing the same things I’m doing. I’m going to have a gang. I have leadership qualities. I’m going to be the leader. Anyway, we’re going to do stuff we enjoy, that make us feel good, that make us feel accepted by somebody, and we’re going to go out and do whatever we do, whether it’s going out and graffiti. It starts out very minor. Graffiti. And more and more, thrill seeking. And because, there’s an accomplishment in doing something wrong and illegally and not getting caught. There’s an accomplishment there.
There’s bragging rights. They don’t have academics to brag about. But they do have something else to brag about. And they’re going to work, day in and day out, for their own survival, to do it. And guess what? That is training. Giving them the training ground to do that. Third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade twice. Okay? Then they show up in high school. Which is where we try to focus a lot of our attention. Six or seven years of daily practice, of doing something to bring self worth other than academics, is not going to be erased by a ninth grade teacher.
“Now let me tell you about Mrs. Jones, a ninth grade teacher. Ninth grade English 1 teacher. Mrs. Jones went to Columbia Teachers College to be an English teacher. Trained in secondary English. She can English 1, 2, 3, 4, whatever you want. Mrs. Jones is in a ninth grade class, been trained, loves literature, loves teaching ninth grade, tenth grade. So she comes to Florida and she gets assigned to anyone of the many high schools that we have that serve the product of social promotion. And she winds up with two thirds of her class in Level One FCAT. What is it, in her training, and at 21 years old, what is it in her life experience, that has led to her have a clue about what to do, even though there are 22 students in her class, of Level One students who don’t look like her. What is she to think of these students? Well, first of all, one of the first things she thinks about these students in general is, “Good grief, how could they have gone through this school all this time and be so far behind?
They must be just really slow. Really, really slow.” This is the smart teacher. The teacher who is not that smart says, “By God, you’re going to do ninth grade, class” - and we’ve all seen it, superintendents have seen it, I’ve seen it, almost was there myself - the teacher that says we’re going to do ninth-grade work, I’m trained in ninth grade work, here’s the book, bam bam bam.
“Holy cow, everybody in my class failed. So I give out 22 F’s. Well, then, the principal comes and we have a talk. And the principal says, you know, you just can’t give out 22 F’s. Not good. Not good. You can’t just say every kid in your class fails. You can’t sustain that. There’s got to be something wrong with you. So, you figure out a way to help your kids be successful. So, I’m a ninth grade teacher. I don’t have anything in my background, I don’t know how to teacher developmental reading, I don’t know how to handle classroom discipline. Kids who have six years of practicing just for me. Six years of practicing, 180 days a year, just to foil me. And I haven’t had one day of experience or practice on how to deal with that, in a mature, professional, competent and confident manner.
And if I don’t just get totally terrified out of my mind and leave teaching, I’m going to be miserable, the kids are going to be miserable. So, there’s only one thing to do and it’s not wrong, it’s not wrong. You say, okay, I’m going to take these kids where they are, and I’m going to move them forward. That’s what we should all do. Okay? So they’re reading on a fourth grade level, fifth grade level? We’re going to start reading. I don’t know anything about reading. Never learned to teach reading. But, we’re going to read simpler books. Well, first of all, kids know they’re reading fourth-grade books, you know what I mean? Big pictures? Big words? And even though we hide that, they kind of know. But they do better. Okay? They make progress.“So we have a normal curve. We have a few A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s and still a few F’s for kids who just don’t do anything and challenge you to make them do something different. So, at the end of the day, guess what? 18 of my kids in English 1 has a credit in English 1. Not a credit in fourth-grade reading. A credit in English 1. Now what in the devil is that credit worth, and what’s that credit mean?
All it means is, the teacher survives, does his or her best by bringing kids from where they are. Kids, maybe, make some progress, although we know that more than 90 percent of ninth-grade students who are level one never get out of level one. So virtually nobody gets out of level one when they get into high school.
And I’m here to say the reason is not because they’re slow, but because they have had six or seven years of practice at the kinds of things Ron Matus saw happening in terms of how to foil, you know, a teacher, and how to push just the right buttons, and in some cases, stay just shy of going to the office. Because the teacher’s scared and they can smell scared teachers from the first day they call roll. I know. I was a scared teacher. And the first thing I learned is not to be scared.
“Okay. So that’s a pretty bleak picture, huh? But I do believe the root of it is social promotion. Why do we do social promotion? Social promotion has a great value in our school system. Because it doesn’t make us do better. It’s an escape valve. It’s an escape hatch to say, “Well, we’ll socially promote them because we don’t want anybody driving their motorcycle to middle school or elementary school. It allows us to be less than we should be. If there was no social promotion, holy cow, holy cow, what would we’d do? I tell you what we’d do. We’d do a lot better. We would do a heck of a lot better if that escape hatch were closed. And that’s what accountability is about. It’s closing the escape hatches that allow us to maintain a happy medium, a happy medium, without improving. Okay? Those are escape hatches. The first escape hatch is, “Don’t measure performance.” Okay? Then everybody’s happy. Except when they take the SAT. Or you don’t have them ready for college. But during most of their grades, everybody’s happy. Parents are happy. They don’t know what they should be learning in many cases. Parents who drive their kids to achieve at higher levels still drive their kids and they’re going to learn in spite of us. They’re going to learn in spite of us. But they could learn much more with us. So, it keeps everybody happy. It keeps everybody happy, these mechanisms.
“And I mentioned integration and dealing with our double F schools. Let me tell you that double F schools, or critically low performing schools, serve a useful function in the balance of nature in education. The balance of nature in education has been, it is almost impossible to get rid of a poor teacher, or a non performing teacher. Before Frank Brogan introduced legislation in the late 90s to reduce the time it took to remove an incompetent - let’s just say incompetent - teacher from two years to one year, before that, virtually no principals could bear going through the process. Because it was torture. The extended time of bad interaction, negative hostile interaction with the teacher, hostile interaction with a union leadership on behalf of the teacher, lawyers on one side, well funded through the teachers association, you know, you can imagine running the school and just having one teacher that you’re going to go through two years with that type of situation. It’s just more than principals could bear. So, what do you do?
“And then was first brought to light by the Orlando Sentinel last year in Orange County. What we have always done in education - when I started teaching in 1970, we were doing it in 1970 - and that is, move a very weak teacher, or a teacher who parents began complaining about - okay, parents began complaining, and they bring home notes that are bad grammar, or they’re not grading any papers and they’re giving out grades willy nilly, or they’re falling asleep in the class, or they’re sitting there eating all the time in the class, or they just get work papers or they watch movies, those kinds of things. So parents start complaining. What’d you do in school today, son? Nothing. Again. So, they simply transfer those teachers if they’re on continuing contract - what we used to call continuing contract - to a school where few parents complain. To a school where parents have the greatest respect for educators. Have the greatest faith in our ability to educate kids. And that they have put their child in our hands, because we are educated and they are not, we’re successful and they may or may not be, and who are they to argue with a professional educator who’s certified, by the way. Certified. So this happens quietly, slowly, every year, year in and year out, for as long as I’ve been teaching. It happens with principals. It happens with teachers. It happens with everybody.
“And I’m pleased to say there’s been a turnaround with that in two areas. One, I think we’ve gotten far better, if a principal can’t figure out whether a teacher’s a good teacher in three year, then you got the wrong principal. So basically we’ve done a better job, a better job, at sorting out teachers early on. And both helping them be successful and holding them accountable. So I think that the teachers now coming through, that are on professional contracts, are better. And because of accountability, and because of the process that we use. But that’s not the way it’s always been.
“So we end up having a lot of schools, and a lot of schools that are serving the kids that need our best talent, a lot of schools that are inner city, poor and minority, get the short end of the stick. And we have to turn that around. And state law turned that around a couple years ago, by saying you can’t have any larger percent of uncertified teachers in your low performing schools, so you at least try to get that balance. And we’ve got differential pay for incentives to help teachers. And even that in some cases is not enough. We’ve got to build capacity. We’ve got to help that Mrs. Jones know what to do with a fourth grade reader in the ninth grade. So she doesn’t just say, “I’m not going to put up with that one more day. You’re out. Not going to put up with that one more day. You’re out.” And pretty soon, enough suspensions, you got all absences, what’s the point? You got to help that teacher figure out something better to do than say, “I’m not going to put up with that one more day.”
“You know, it’s interesting, the profile ... okay, I’m going to ... well, maybe I still do have things to say .. But anyway, the profile of a dropout is a kid with low grades. Of course they disengage. Doesn’t mean they’re dumb but low grades. But guess what? 80 percent say I wasn’t challenged in school. When they leave they say, “Mrs. Jones didn’t challenge me.” Mrs. Jones is doing the best she could. You’re reading on a fourth grade level. You know? What do I need to challenge you for? You’re way behind. What I need to do, I need to remediate you, not challenge you. I need to take you back. And have you re-do. And re-do. Re-do. Re-do. Re-do. And part of that process is to challenge you, and make you sweat and work hard and all that, because I believe you can do better and expedite that growth. No, it’s exactly what we experienced across the state of Florida after Hurricane Charley, Jeanne, Frances, when everybody said, “Waive the FCAT this year. Waive school grades this year.” All the associations, superintendents, school board members. Waive it, because these kids can’t be expected to be academics when their home is destroyed. And I probably took the biggest chance of my professional career by having to believe that if we did that, then we told our children, “We’re going to give up on you. And we’re going to give up on academics in the entire state of Florida, the third largest state in the nation, for a full year. We’re going to give up and give us a pass.” God knows what we’re going to do for 180 days, but we’re going to give up.
Instead, we said, “No, here’s what we need to do. Just like communities pull together to save one another, and to work with one another, and to volunteer and feed one another, clothe one another, shelter one another, we need to do that same thing in the classroom. We need to do the same thing with our children. That’s where the human spirit is so profoundly positive and effective. We need to wrap our arms around kids and say, and challenge them and say, “You know, this happened. This happened. But we have business at hand to do. And we can still, we can overcome our challenges.” And the 13 districts with the greatest loss of days from hurricanes outscored every other district in FCAT. Every grade level. Pretty amazing. What would have been our outcome if we had given everybody a pass?
“So, we can’t give our kids a pass. It’s called misplaced compassion. Mr. Chairman, right that down if you would. Misplaced compassion sells kids short. And we do it with a good heart, with a full heart, a caring heart. But a stupid heart. Because we’re cheating kids. We’re like the parent who loves their child so much they can’t discipline them. Loves their child so much they can’t discipline them. We’re good people. But who knows what we’re going to turn out.”
“So our attitudes and our beliefs are our biggest prison. We’re enslaved by our own beliefs first. As if that’s not enough, and that’s what I want this task force to challenge: policies and programs don’t weigh anything compared to hearts and minds. We have to deal at the state level with policies and programs. That’s the function of state government and the Legislature. But without hearts and minds, a thoughtful impact of hearts and minds to go along with that, then you’re going to have empty programs. Because it’s hard work. And unless our people believe in children, and believe they can make a difference, and work together to do that, let’s don’t invest $700 million like in supplemental academic instruction. Don’t invest it in that. Because it’s not going to happen. Case management doesn’t work. Care management works.
“Our challenges we have in the state of Florida are more than most. One, we have the largest schools in the nation. Our average high school is double the size of schools in the nation. We breed anonymity. We breed non caring. We breed mass movement. And we don’t breed caring. And when you go into small, small schools, or schools within a school, or career academies, or you talk to kids whose friends are the most important part of their lives, reducing that down to about 250 kids, and bringing in family and a support system of challenged, engaged students, you don’t have to look for a gang to be accepted. You don’t have to look for a gang.
“And if you have choices in your high schools to engage you in something you love, then you’ll have a reason to be there. That’s what A++ is all about. The average high school in the state of Florida, I was scared to death that we wouldn’t have enough majors in our high schools, and we’d say, “Okay, you get to pick among five majors.”
The average high school in the state of Florida can offer 130 discrete majors. That’s the average. The one with the most, over 200, is Holmes Braddock High School, the largest high school in the state. And that’s just offering the courses you have now. You can offer students 130 on average. And that’s defined as four courses in a row in one subject area. Four courses in a row makes a major. So without changing one thing, most schools in the state of Florida can offer over 100 majors to their students. And you know, I heard last week, a principal was interviewed, saying, “We’re just not going to offer that many.” You know ... why would it be any skin off the nose of a principal to say, “We’re only going to offer only 14 or 25 majors.” You know. Anyway. We’ve got to have as many engaging programs as possible. And that’s a dropout prevention strategy. But it’s a school-wide kind of strategy.”
“We have rampant social promotion still. We’ve got to do something about that. We’ve got ninth grade retention, which we retain 50,000 ninth graders a year. And when you calculate your graduation rate by how many ninth graders you have, and how many kids graduate four years later, you’re artificially inflating your ninth grade so no wonder you’re the worst in the nation. No wonder we’re the worst in the nation. And what’s interesting is, most of those kids move ...
“So, why call them a ninth grader except it makes it look like the worst state in the nation on graduation rate. I could have a whole speech on that. But anyway.”
“Let me talk about a success story. All of you will be sharing success stories as well.