Lee County school officials and their acolytes are again toasting district accomplishments with half-full glasses held high and checkbooks at the ready for another round of congratulatory spending for top administrators.
FCAT scores saw a bump this year and the district "grade" bestowed by the state has risen to an "A."
We agree, these are accomplishments worth some cheer.
But as most of us learn well before we earn leadership roles, touting only the positive does not change reality, it only diverts our focus.
Put into perspective, while 34 of Florida's 67 districts received an "A" this year from the state, and a record number - more than 75 percent - of all schools statewide were deemed "high performing," most did not meet all of the adequate yearly progress requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Lee County was among them.
In fact, here in Lee, the percentage of criteria met to meet No Child Left Behind objectives - essentially by increasing the number of students passing the state FCAT in reading and math - dropped for the fifth year running. The parents of children at a dozen schools, which failed to meet federal objectives for the last two years, were sent letters this week giving them the option to move their children to a better-performing school.
Why care about these federal numbers when the county is doing so well, based on state school "grades"?
For one thing, using standards set by each state, No Child Left Behind measures educational accomplishments on a national scale, not merely against in-state benchmarks.
For another, the act breaks down student progress by demographic - by "race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, and English proficiency" to make sure progress is measured across the board, not just by looking at mainstream students. No Child Left Behind measures adequate yearly progress by breaking students into subgroups: white, black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, economically disadvantaged, English language learners and students with disabilities.
It is here that our public school officials have their work cut out for them.
While white students met adequate yearly progress by increasing passage rates on the FCAT - 71 percent for reading and 76 percent for math - black students, with 45 percent passing reading and 44 percent passing math; and Hispanic students, with 56 percent passing reading and 60 passing percent in math, missed the AYP benchmarks of 65 percent for reading and 68 percent for math this year.
The district also did not meet progress standards in either math or reading for students classified as economically disadvantaged, English language learners or students with disabilities.
Now we can blame the program by decrying the AYP criteria, which increases the required pass rates each year. We can blame our demographics - in politically correct language only, of course. We can continue to measure success by isolating ourselves from these nationwide goals and objectives.
Or we can stop the backslapping and the glad handing at the top and see the glass is at least as empty as it is full and concentrate on educating our children.
All of them, as is the intent behind No Child Left Behind.
To that end we also suggest that before the checkbook comes out again with more money, more compensation or another golden parachute for the district's superintendent, Dr. James Browder, that our school board majority look first to the classroom and the children left behind without the reading and math skills to get them to the next grade level.
Then, perhaps, we'll all have something to cheer about.
- Reporter editorial