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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview with ...



Candy06 ... Hillsborough School Board member Candy Olson. First elected in 1994, Olson has served as board chairwoman twice. She also has represented the district on the executive board of the Council of Great City Schools. She talked to the Gradebook about whether it's right to expect all students to graduate from high school in four years.

"What's the magic in four years? There are lots of kids who take 4-1/2 or five years to finish college, or even longer. And that doesn't seem to be such a problem. Now I know our Legislature would like kids to finish college quicker. It is because of money. But I think the point is that not everybody learns at the same rate. And when you get to high school you are dealing with much more complex kinds of learning. It's one thing to teach a child to read phonetically. It's another thing to teach a child to understand. ...

Not every child is going to grasp all the material they need in exactly four years of high school. Now, we need to do a better job in making sure that if they go through school they are getting ready. But if we are going to have a productive discussion about how to get children through high school, we are going to need to really look at how much time that takes and what's really involved.

Here's the other piece. ... The children who aren't successful in high school in four years are the same children who come to us not ready to learn when they are very little. ... If we want every child to succeed, we need to make sure they are ready to learn when they get to school. And that means making sure their parents understand what they need to do. That they are healthy, that they have their immunizations, that their parents stress to them the importance of going to school and being school and that their parents work with their teachers. I think we as a district are doing a number of things. I think our career centers are a very important start. They give kids who haven't been successful in traditional high schools a different way to go about learning. And that's really important.

I think our summer graduation is really important. We have two every year now for kids who don't finish in four years but need one credit or one-half a credit. The summer graduation is primarily for parents, but it gives kids an end. You still get to walk, you still get to celebrate. One of my concerns about the pressure for graduation in four years is I think we're chasing a lot of kids out. They look and they say, 'Well, I'm never going make that,' and they give up. And they wait until the birthday on which they can drop out and they drop out. And I don't think moving the age is necessarily magic because these are kids who have given up hope. They're not connected and they don't see the point. ... The school district, working with the community, has to give these kids reasons to stay in school and reasons to study. We have to show them what they can do with their degree. If we do this thing with majors right, I think that will help. ...

Another piece that we need to look at is the legislative mandate that kids who don't reach a certain level on FCAT will have extra reading and extra math. That's really important. But we have to find different ways of teaching it. If you're not succeeding with a certain amount of the current instruction, I'm not so sure you're going to succeed with more of the same. We have to find different ways to teach skills that they need. We have a number of people looking into it. ... I think it's really important to stress that there is no one answer. And the federal and state mandates that come down simplistically and say 'You have to do this and here's how you have to do it,' do not leave room for the fact that people on the ground, the teachers, are the ones who know what the kids need and they know how to deliver it. We need to give them room to do it.

One of the things that is just in the very early talking stages is media literacy, teaching reading and comprehension through work with television or film or art. ... Another thing that's in the talking stages that I hope we get to is a smaller high school is a smaller high school not for kids who are bad but for kids who are making C's and D's and getting lost because a 2,000 student high school is too big and too unstructured. ... I think the real problem that I have is saying we're going to require every child to succeed in a school that has worked for about half or two-thirds of the kids in the country, historically. ... Different schools work for different students and we need to provide that array of schools. ... We absolutely need to move beyond just pushing these kids to learn more and we need to provide environments in which they can succeed. And we also need to get over this four years is a magic number."

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:15am]


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