Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Public Education

The following is an exchange I participated in as a member of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce's Education Committee. The positions I address are meant to reach well beyond Collier County, Florida. My comments are in italics. The questions the committee asked Dr. Puryear are bolded. Her replies are in regular type.

Dear fellow Education Committee members,

The Naples Institute is a new think tank dedicated to fighting for social justice. I am one of eight founders; our ranks include Bernie and Rita Turner, founders of Walden University, among other experts in education, business, leadership, and philanthropy.

Education reform is one of the key components to promoting social justice, and it is a cause that is central to the mission of The Naples Institute. I joined the Chamber’s Education Committee in the hopes of making a significant impact on policy here in Collier County, where my girls will go to school. I believe that we can play a powerful role in influencing the direction that our legislators, school board, and administrators take in improving the (currently poor) standard of education in our school district and, with time, in our entire state.

I have added The Naples Institute’s positions and observations below. I hope that this stimulates conversation within the Education Committee.

Finally, let me add that I am personally grateful for Dr. Puryear for taking the time to meet with us recently. I do not mean to disparage her through the following remarks. I respect her experience, professionalism, and intellect. I also understand that she is in an unenviable position with regards to her position, especially considering recent political turmoil involving the superintendents.

For more information on The Naples Institute, please visit
www.institutenaples.org. Please keep in mind that we have just recently established this site, and are still adding to it and improving it.


Ted Coiné, Founder
The Naples Institute

Dr. Rozalyne P. Puryear January 4, 2008
Responses to Questions from the
Chamber Education Committee on
November 19, 2007
What have been some of the ramifications of implementing the CSR Amendment?

(CSR = Class Size Reduction, a state mandate).

a. a huge amount of funds($2.7 billion statewide) from the state level that are earmarked for more teachers to reduce class size which leaves considerable less resources for other things like salary increases, program costs, etc. (class size is NOT a major indicator of increased student achievement)

The Naples Institute is well aware of studies that report class size is not relevant to student performance. This proves Benjamin Disraeli right when he said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Statistics can be misused to prove any point. Not only is this premise counter-intuitive, but we find it hard to believe that any real-life teacher, parent, or student would agree with this claim.

One of the most alluring draws of private schools is the low student-teacher ratio. In my own personal experience running a for-profit, highly competitive ESL school in Massachusetts, we base our guaranteed results on a class size of no more than eight students. I challenge a public school administrator to replicate the efficiency and results of the private educational sector.

b. need for more teachers when there is a shortage of quality teachers (quality teachers ARE a major indicator of increased student achievement)

We completely agreed.

c. the sizes set by the state are unnecessarily low: K-3: 18, 4-8: 22, 9-12: 25

The Naples Institute finds this attitude appalling. Even if class size did not determine educational quality, still 18, 22, or 25 students in a classroom at any level is much too high. For school-system leadership to express the idea that it would like more students in each class than 25 is simply outrageous.

d. increased capital need for more classrooms and thus schools which in turn increases operational costs, e.g.: support staff, administrators, utilities, groundskeeping, etc.

We support dramatically higher teacher pay first; more classroom space, administrators, and grounds keeping staff all come in second to this priority. Indeed, school administration is top-heavy to begin with. Grounds can be maintained exclusively by students performing in-house community service. I attended a prep school for two years, The Wooster School in Danbury, Connecticut, that did not have a single maintenance worker of any kind. The students manage the entire campus themselves, and have since 1921. It builds character, something our children could use help with.

4. RE: Teachers’ Salaries

a. How does Collier County rank in comparison with other districts in the State?

Collier ranks as one of the highest paying districts in the state. In starting salary, Collier is also in the top paying districts. If we look at average teacher pay for 2006/07, Collier ranks #2 at $50,812 after Sarasota, followed by Monroe at $50,762.

The position of The Naples Institute is that Collier County should not compare its self to other school districts in Florida, as the entire state’s level of educational instruction is too low to be relevant in a discussion of academic excellence.

b. How does Florida rank in comparison with other states?

It is difficult to compare teachers' pay across states because average teacher pay is typically used. States/counties that hire many new teachers each year will typically have a lower average teacher pay.

We find this answer to be insufficient, and perhaps motivated by unwillingness to share the answer, which we know is below-par. Our reply to “it is difficult” is that we aren’t really interested in how difficult it is. Dr. Puryear should do her best to provide us the information we requested. This answer is a brush-off.

Perhaps the comparison – for instance, Florida ranks 32nd in pay – could include a note on the fact that the statistics are skewed because recent demographic shifts have demanded hiring of more new teachers in Florida compared to some other states, especially in the Northeast where pay is higher.

6. Are there any health curricular changes being proposed for our district?

a. The only major change would be if SB 440 gets a House companion bill and passes. This would require .5 Health Education at the High School.

Does this answer satisfy any other member of the committee? It does not tell us the changes to be included in said bill. And is “.5” one-half of a year? That is also completely obscure.

RE: Funds for Teachers’ Salaries

a. Can the district receive funds from an outside agency to use for raises for teachers?

i. The district can receive funds from outside agencies for raises; however, unless the funds are available from the same source in subsequent years that would possibly worsen the situation in the years to follow.

We concur. It is important that any funding source that we establish include this consideration in its plan. (This notion was one that I suggested at the meeting as a way of circumventing the state's and county's reluctance to pay teachers more.)