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Thursday July 31st 2014

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BLAME GAME

The Escambia County Public School District is ranked in the bottom half of the state. Out of 67 school districts in Florida, Escambia County is ranked 44, tied with Lake and Marion counties. Superintendent Malcolm Thomas told the daily newspaper that the ranking showed the district was moving in the right direction, up from 52 the previous school year.

I saw the ranking as more of a move from worst to worse. Hardly something one wants to show a company thinking about relocating to Escambia County.

School Board Member Jeff Bergosh felt he had to defend the low ranking in a viewpoint (Pensacola News Journal, “Data doesn’t tell the whole story,” Jan. 29). Bergosh believes that the rankings should come with footnotes, disclaimers and explanations so that the release of the data doesn’t  “lead to incorrect and negative public perceptions.”

That’s exactly what my children wanted to do when their report cards were handed out.

“Dad, the teacher didn’t include my extra credit.” Or “Dad, the last test was way too hard.” Or “Dad, I wasn’t feeling well during finals.”

Instead of taking ownership of the school grades and district ranking, Bergosh has a litany of culprits that he believes explains the district’s shortcomings—crime, poverty and demographics (a code word for “race”).

Even the most conservative Republicans believe that education is the path out of poverty. It’s a core tenet of former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. However, Bergosh is telling us that it’s poverty that makes our school system bad.

Children have no control over their financial status, neighborhoods, parents or race (insert “demographics,” if it makes you more comfortable). Public education must take these kids as they are and figure out how to teach them reading, math, science and writing.

What the school grades and rankings tell us is that Bergosh and the district leadership are failing in doing that, especially with their minority and poor students. Forty-three other Florida school districts have figured out how to do it much better than the Escambia district administration and school board.

Drilling children on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test isn’t working. The children aren’t retaining what they learned from the myopic emphasis on FCAT, or our graduation rates among the minorities and poor students would be much higher than the current rates of 58 and 61 percent.

The time for excuses has long passed. Mr. Bergosh, you were elected to see that all our children receive a good education. Do it.