S: I am here at Gainesville High School with Dr. Dixon, who is principal. It is March
10, 2005. Dr. Dixon, how did you get started in education?
D: To be real honest with you, I got started by accident. I was a psychology major
who didn't want to go to graduate school at the time and needed a job. The first
district I worked in needed an ESE [Exceptional Student Education] teacher, so I
started teaching ESE and continued to do that for five years and just kind of went
from there. But it was an accident, to be honest.
S: How does Gainesville High School compare to your last school?
D: My last school was Newberry High School. The biggest difference between the
two is that Gainesville High School is about three to four times larger than
Newberry. Newberry, at the time I left there, it was a little over 600 students;
Gainesville is over 2,000, so it's about three times bigger.
S: With that probably comes a lot more problems.
D: Yes, it does, but really, the kids are very similar, it's just bigger, and with that you
have more problems, more of everything.
S: In light of all the magnet programs circling around the county, what type of
students are brought to Gainesville?
D: We are a truly diverse population. We are, by far, the most diverse population of
all of the high schools in Gainesville. We have students from all over the county
because we have a magnet program, an Institute of Health Professions (IHP).
We also have a choice program with the Cambridge (CIE) program that we just
instituted this year. We have people coming from all over the county for that. We
have the district ESOL program, which is English for Speakers of Other
Languages. We have one hundred-plus students on campus that come from
literally all over the world, from countries that I haven't even heard of in some
cases. Our population socio-economically runs from some kids that are quite rich
to very poor kids, and this year we happen to have the largest number of
students in the district in our ninth grade class who are on free-reduced lunch. It's
a real diverse group, it truly is. [It's] much more so than most of the other high
schools in the district.
S: Implemented in 1998, the FCAT became the leading assessment test in Florida.
What methods does the state require the school to go through in order to prepare
for the exam?
D: The state doesn't require a whole lot in terms of preparation for the exam. They
don't mandate what you have to do to prepare for it. They do mandate that once
students take it and don't pass it, they have some mandatory remediation for
them, and they don't tell you exactly how you do that, they just tell you that you
have to. But because schools are graded on the FCAT, most of the schools that
I'm aware of, do some things to specifically address the FCAT. Now, they may do
it through their normal curriculum, they may have special classes, but all the
schools that I know of are aware of it, are aware that the testing is coming, aware
that it's a very high stakes test, and are trying to do some things to make sure
that their kids are prepared.
S: How does the FCAT compare with the HSCT [High School Competency Test- A
testing program developed in Florida that tested basic communication and
mathematical skills. Passing this during the junior year of high school was a
requirement for graduation] test?
D: The FCAT compared to the old HSCT is much more difficult. It tests a much
broader spectrum of the curriculum. The old HSCT, the High School Competency
Test, tested some very basic skills that, at that time, I guess it was felt students
needed to have before they left high school. They were very specifically identified
language arts and mathematic skills. The FCAT is much more comprehensive in
nature, it relies much more on higher order thinking skills than the old HSCT did.
S: Have you noticed an increase in student performance since 1998?
D: I guess if you look strictly at FCAT test scores I would say yes, I've noticed an
increase in student performance. Whether we have done a better job of
preparing kids for the test, or whether they're actually better prepared
academically, I'm not sure. My gut is we've simply done a better job of preparing
them to take the FCAT. I don't know that academically they're any better off than
they've ever been.
S: Do demographics and the economic status of the students have an effect on the
test and their scores?
D: Without question. That's something that the state doesn't like to admit, but if you
look at the statistics across the state, you're going to see consistently that
students of lower socio-economic levels don't do as well on the FCAT, students
of certain races and gender backgrounds don't do as well on the FCAT. It's kind
of an ugly little secret that the state doesn't like to discuss much, but it's there,
the statistics are there. I think, in all honesty to be fair about this, the governor's
stance and the legislature's stance is that it may be that way, but it shouldn't be
that way. [They say] we should be teaching in such a way that all students can
perform at a very high level, and I don't disagree with that, but I think there's a
whole lot of evidence to indicate that there are certain students from various
backgrounds that have trouble with standardized tests and don't score as well on
them. It doesn't matter if it's the FCAT or if it's the SAT or any standardized test
that you want to name, there are certain groups of students that simply don't
score as well on those.
S: I understand that it cannot all be fixed in the schools, but what has your school
been doing to maybe attempt to rectify this?
D: I think the biggest thing we've done is to try to get teachers to teach more to
those high order thinking skills, less rote-memory kinds of things, more getting
students to analyze, compare, and contrast. [We need to get them] to do the
kinds of things that you really have to do in the real world and in professions.
Along those lines I think perhaps the FCAT has been helpful in that if you're
going to do better on the FCAT, you have to be able to do those things in the
reading part of the FCAT. From my standpoint, that's what we've done. The other
thing we've done, that all schools have done, is taught kids how to take the test.
Any test has certain little tricks that if you do certain little things, your score is
going to be a little better, so all schools have done that too. I just count that.
Maybe what we've done the best job with, or tried to do the best job with, is to
address the higher order thinking skills rather than the easier tasks that students
have often times been asked to do.
S: The FCAT is based on the Sunshine State Standards, and the Sunshine State
Standards dictate the curriculum of the schools. Do you feel that the FCAT
completely addresses the Sunshine State Standards well?
D: No, it doesn't, and can't. The Sunshine State Standards are extremely broad and
very comprehensive, and no test could address all of that. I think the FCAT
probably addresses some of the more meaningful Sunshine State Standards-
meaningful is not the word I'm looking for there, I'm grasping for a term to use
there-but some of the broader Sunshine State Standards I think the FCAT can
address. But it certainly can't address all of them in all subject areas. It's just
S: Considering the other responsibilities of the school principal such as faculty
meetings, community concerns, and the daily operation of the school, how do
you balance all those and FCAT, since the FCAT really does play an important
role in how the school does?
D: I probably look at this a little bit differently than some principals, probably
because I'm closer to retirement age than most principals. I don't believe in
placing an undue amount of emphasis on the FCAT. I believe if you have a
sound curriculum, I believe if your teachers are offering quality instruction, I
believe if you've created a good environment for learning, the test scores tend to
take care of themselves. I do know that you have to prepare the kids for the
FCAT, I understand that, but I don't put nearly the emphasis on it that some
principals do, simply because I think schools should do more than just test
S: How much pressure does the community place on the schools because of the
D: [It places] a tremendous amount. The pressure comes through the school board,
it comes from various media out there, and it comes through parents. The means
that are used to produce school grades based on the FCAT scores are very
complex. They're way complicated. I've been dealing with it now since 1998; I still
get confused sometimes about how those grades are computed, and it changes
yearly. It changes every single year how our grades are computed. But parents
don't know that, it's not their job to know that, it's too complicated for them to
keep up with. What parents do understand though is A, B, C, D, and F. And if
you're an A school, then they say, A school, they must be an excellent school. If
you're an F school, then you must be a failing school. They don't understand that
the FCAT really just looks at one little tiny part of your school. They don't
understand, for example, my school's grade dropped from a B to a C last year.
When I looked at our scores it dropped from a B to a C because of our ninth
grade scores. We'd had our ninth grade, let's see, August, September, October,
November, December, January, February; we'd had our ninth grade seven
months. My school's grade dropped a full letter grade because of kids that had
been with me for seven months. It would be much more accurate if they tested
on what do we do with them over a four-year period of time, but that's not the
way it works. Again, parents don't know that and parents don't care about that.
They see your grade in the paper, and they understand A, B, C, D, or F. So the
pressure is there because if you want your school perceived as a good one by
the public, then you have to pay attention to that school grade. If your school is
not perceived as a good one by the public, they will take their kids elsewhere.
They have that choice now. So the pressure is definitely there to score well on
S: Has the school board or this high school in general done anything to tell the
public that this is happening?
D: I don't know that we have done anything specifically. I try to make sure that my
school advisory council and the parent groups that I talk to understand the kinds
of things that go into the school grade and understand the complexity of it and
understand some of the drawbacks of simply assigning a grade like that to a
school. You have to be careful as a principal or a school board or a
superintendent that you don't come off as an excuse maker and a whiner and a
complainer. For me to say, well, it's not fair that Gainesville High School has a C
grade based upon these scores, every other school is facing the same set of
rules. Those are the rules we have, and those are the rules you play by, and I
think the only thing that the school system should be doing, and I think people
like me should be doing, is trying to be sure that our whole school system doesn't
become an FCAT preparation system. I think that's up to professionals to do, and
hopefully you can do that and keep your school grade up. I really do worry. This
is off topic, but I really do worry that we're paying too much attention to nothing
but test scores now. I wonder if our curriculum and instruction is really better
because of that. Last year, I really started to worry about that more and more.
S: The FCAT has experienced much criticism over the years. Do you feel that some
of these critiques are true?
D: Yes, I do. Let me say this, I don't think it's the FCAT per se. I think the FCAT is
probably a pretty darn good test. I think if your kids aren't scoring reasonably well
on that FCAT, you need to ask yourself, are we teaching the right things? If we're
teaching the right things, are we doing it effectively? I don't have anything against
the test itself, [but] I do have something against the way the test is used. I think
when a school's entire grade is made up based upon nothing but test scores, you
don't look at the drop-out rate, you don't look at the graduation rate. Let's say in
the tenth grade, only 60 percent of my kids passed the FCAT when they initially
took it. Shouldn't part of your school grade be based upon how many of them
actually don't receive a diploma because of the FCAT. Maybe we do a great job
over four years, maybe it's just not showing up in the first two. The problem with
the FCAT is not the test itself, it probably provides some really good feedback,
the problem with it is how it is used and how it's applied. I think because of that
it's skewed all of the schools, K-12 schools, in a way that's maybe not really
S: Is it unfair to minority students?
D: That's a real tough question for me to answer. I think to the extent that any
standardized test may be unfair to minority students, I think the FCAT is. That's a
debate that's probably bigger than me, whether standardized test scores are
unfair to minority students. I think when you get beyond the FCAT and you look
at standardized tests in general, you see a lot of institutions start, including
colleges and universities, starting to question whether or not they're real accurate
predictors and whether or not they're fair predictors. I don't think the FCAT is
any better or worse than those things. I don't know the answer to that.
S: Since the school board doesn't mandate or encourage test prep in the schools,
but say do what you have to do, does it take time out of classroom instruction?
D: Absolutely. Any principal that tells you that it doesn't take away from the normal
curriculum, let me put it that way, I think is probably blatantly lying or naive. The
pressure that a principal feels regarding a school grade is passed right on down
to the teachers. They feel it all, and they're going to do some things to try to
make sure that their kids perform well. I expect them to do that here at
Gainesville High School, I think every principal does. So yes, absolutely, it takes
away from the normal curriculum.
The testing itself interrupts school for two weeks. Last week, Monday and
Tuesday, our juniors and seniors didn't even come to school because we can't
give the test to ninth and tenth graders and do something with the juniors and
seniors, so they were pretty much excused from school for the morning hours.
When we get to Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of last week, we're doing
make-up, so we're pulling kids that were absent back out of the classroom, so
that disrupts the classroom setting. Monday of this week we did norm referenced
tests and the science test with kids in the grades nine, ten, and eleven. Tuesday,
Wednesday, and Thursday of this week we've been doing make-ups on the norm
referenced test and other things. So it absolutely [interrupts]. If that was all it was,
it disrupts classrooms. I think pretty much every public school does some things
in their classrooms that are just designed to help kids with the FCAT. They might
have little to do with the curriculum itself, it's just designed to do that, and for that
reason, yes, it disrupts instruction and interferes with your curriculum.
S: Do you think that's fair?
D: No. As I said, I think that's one of the biggest drawbacks to any kind of high
stakes testing. I personally much prefer North Carolina's method of doing
business. They have a comprehensive test at the end of most of their high school
courses, and if you're going to get credit in that course you have to pass it.
S: Like the Regents exam?
D: Yes, and teachers are judged on whether your kids are doing well on these tests
at the end. But for that test, the curriculum is something they're supposed to be
teaching, it's not something that's foreign to that. So I tend to prefer that method.
I just think that right now with all of the emphasis on test scores, look at what's
happened to all of your music and art programs. They've been damaged. There's
no question about it. Look at what we do to kids who don't pass. Let's say a ninth
grader comes in here and scores at a level one in reading when they take the
FCAT. As a principal, I know that if that kid's going to get a diploma, I've got to
get that score raised by the time they're tenth graders. So I look at this same kid
who may love to be in the band or may love to take an art class and say, I'm not
going to be able to let you do that because I'm going to need to put you not only
in your regular language arts course, but I'm going to need to put you in this
remedial language arts course. For that reason, I'm not sure it's good for
students. I know it's hurting certain areas of the curriculum that I think are real
important. I think music and art and those kinds of things are real important. Not
as many students get the opportunity to take those because we're so into
preparing them to perform well on this high-stakes FCAT exam. That's what
we're graded on. That's what we're held accountable for. Nobody's ever asked
me, Dr. Dixon, how many students did you have get a music scholarship last
year? How many students do you have enrolled in drama? How did your band
score at this competition or that competition? Nobody ever asks me that. But
they'll ask me the percentage of students that passed the FCAT in the ninth and
tenth grade, and I'm held accountable to that, so guess what we pay much
S: How they did on the FCAT. Are teachers given incentives for better student
D: Not at this school. The only incentive that I know that they're given is that the
state does reward schools that are A schools or who raise their grade by one
letter. That reward is substantial. If you were a teacher at Buchholz High School
[another local Gainesville, Florida high school] the last few years, you got paid
more than the teachers at GHS or Newberry High School because you were in
an A school, and you probably got up to a $1500 bonus. If you look around the
state, it's another thing the state doesn't want to admit, they will point to the
exceptions, but if you look around the state, you'll find that most of the A schools
are upper middle-class largely white schools. So the teachers who already have
the easier job teaching in those schools now are also getting a monetary reward
for doing it. Whereas if you're in a school on the east side of town-my wife is
principal at a school on the east side of town, and 90 percent of her kids are on
free/reduced lunch. Her teachers finally raised their school a letter grade, so last
year they got a bonus, but for the last five or six years they'd been working at the
normal salary. Teachers over at Chiles Elementary School, a brand new
elementary school in an upper middle-class neighborhood serving upper middle-
class kids, their teachers all got a bonus because they were an A school. That's
the only incentive I know of, and again, that's where I think the FCAT is terribly
misused when you give that kind of [reward]. You're rewarding the wrong people.
You ought to reward those teachers who are willing to work with kids who really
have some problems and some issues. Every teacher ought to get paid more,
but the ones that deal with kids from low socio-economic backgrounds, and they
have 90 percent of those kids in those classrooms, those are the teachers that
truly are facing an uphill battle, and those are not the ones we reward. FCAT
scores reward the others, not them.
S: This is probably redundant, but how much of the evaluation is based on FCAT
D: Evaluation of teachers?
S: Of the school. I guess teachers too, I've never actually thought about that.
D: I don't use the FCAT scores to evaluate teachers. How am I going to evaluate an
art teacher based on our FCAT reading scores. For that matter, how am I going
to evaluate an English teacher based upon that? They have a language arts
curriculum to teach, not just a reading score. I don't use it for teacher evaluation
at all. I think schools, in the public's eye and in the state's official eye, that that is
their only evaluation. I could be graduating 99 percent of my kids, which I'm not
by the way, but Gainesville High School could be graduating 99 percent of their
kids compared to another high school that's graduating only 75 percent of their
kids after four years. But if that high school with a 75 percent graduation rate and
has an A, and I have a C with my 99 percent graduation rate, in the public's eyes,
I'm an average school, and they're an excellent one. That's just the way it's going
to be. Like I said, the public doesn't understand everything that goes into it. I
think if the public, as a whole, ever really understood how a school's grade is
computed, they would say, wait a minute, that's not fair, that makes no sense.
But they don't know that. It's very complex. And again, it's not their job to know
that. They can't keep up with all of that. They understand A, B, C, D, and F, and
that's what they react to.
S: Gainesville did get a C this past year. What are you doing to increase that grade?
D: I've thought about that a lot. All we have really tried to do differently is I have
done a great deal of in-service with the faculty on teaching reading across the
curriculum. That simply means, if you're a social studies teacher, use your text
book correctly. There are certain things you can do to increase students' reading
comprehension without having to deviate away from your curriculum. We have
asked social studies teachers to use some social studies books that we have
bought them that are specifically designed to help kids with FCAT reading kinds
of questions, but they're social studies books. We've done the same thing
through science. We have done some things to try to get the kids to take the test
more seriously. One of the things that there's absolutely no doubt in my mind,
when I looked at our scores last year, when I first got our scores in, and all I saw
initially when we first got the gross scores in was our mean/median scores.
I said, we did pretty much what we did the year before so we'll be a B school
again, which was kind of disappointing, I was hoping we would move up. Then
when we got the C grade back and I got all of the scores and was able to look at
them, what I found was that our tenth grade scores remained pretty constant, but
our ninth grade scores took a huge plunge. So I started to look at that. I said, that
doesn't make a whole lot of sense when our mean and median scores are the
same. When I looked at it closer, where we really took a huge plunge was in the
lower quartile of the kids. That's an important segment you need to be paying
attention to. I said, what are we doing wrong? I looked at some kids that I had
with teachers that I knew were good teachers, and I'm thinking, what's wrong
here? I got their reading scores and I looked at them, and there's something
called the developmental scale score that comes with the FCAT, and what the
developmental scale score shows is growth from one year to the next. I'm looking
at the developmental scale scores for our ninth graders, and some of them are
wonderful, showing a year and a half, two, two and a half years growth, and
others they're showing going in the wrong way. They did worse this year than
they did last year. The only thing I could really figure out in talking with the
teachers and with some of the kids is, the ninth graders, many of them didn't take
the test seriously because it has no impact on them, and they know that. They
know that when they take it in the ninth grade, it doesn't matter if they pass it or
not. It doesn't matter how they do on it. It's the tenth grade score that counts. I
think many of them just blew it off. I had these bizarre scores with some kids who
were sitting in the very same classes doing beautifully, and other kids doing
absolutely terribly on it. I'm thinking it makes no sense. I believe many of them
just blew it off. So one of the things we've done is just tried to do some things to
try and get them to take it more seriously. We've appealed to their pride, their
school pride. I've even told the ninth graders that if as a class they show a year's
growth in reading across the board, then we'll give them a big dance at the end.
We asked them what kind of reward would you like and they said that's it. I don't
know if those things will do any good, but if I'm a fourteen year-old kid and I'm
told this test really doesn't have any impact on me, and I'm tired of taking it,
those last forty questions I may just Christmas-tree it, and I think that's what
some of them do. It's not just at GHS, it's other places too, but I think it was a
real problem for us last year.
S: Considering Alachua is one of the poorest counties property-tax-wise in the state,
and a lot of funding directly going into the schools because of this, do you feel
that this is an unfair system?
D: You're talking about the FCAT and grading system?
S: Just funding in general for the schools.
D: Funding in general, yes, it's a little skewed. You go down to Collier County,
they've got all kind of money to spend. The amount of taxes they generate out of
the Keys and so forth is incredible. It's a little skewed, but no more than any other
state. You look around the country, and some of the other state's funding formula
is much worse than ours. The big problem is that funding in general in Florida is
not enough. You probably know this based on your research, but I think we're
forty-eighth in the amount of money we spend per student. Forty-eighth? My
goodness. We're one of the wealthier states.
S: At one point I heard 1,000 new people move to Florida every day. Since we're
such an expansively growing state, there are a lot more students in the schools.
D: Absolutely, we can't keep up with the growth. Not only that, but you look at the
complexity of the state. Go to Iowa. Very homogeneous population. You look at
them, and the number of minorities they've got in Iowa would fit in one county in
Florida. Look at Dade County. They've got kids from all over the place. A large
percentage of them don't speak English, and they're graded on the FCAT just
like everybody else. How would you like to be principal of an elementary school
where a third of your kids don't even speak English. But hey, you think the state
gives you a break on that? No sir, they're expected to pass the FCAT. It's kind of
crazy when you look at it, but those are the rules. Those are the rules we play
S: What type of relationship does the school have with the school board?
D: I think our school board right now is pretty well respected. I think it depends on
who you talk to. I know I feel like, as a principal, that the school board does the
best they can with the resources they have to work with. I think there's some
animosity, and always will be in Alachua County, between the school board and
the teachers because our teachers are so underpaid. They are truly underpaid.
I've worked in other counties. Alachua County has some of the very best
teachers in the state. By any measure you want to take: number of graduate
degrees, performance of our students-any measure you want to take, Alachua
County has some of the very best teachers in the state, yet they don't get paid
like that. Our teachers are paid very poorly compared to other districts in the
state, and of course, the state as a whole is paid poorly compared to other states
in the country. I think there's some animosity between the teachers and the
school board, but I personally feel that the school board is doing the best they
can with the resources they have. They just don't have a lot of resources to work
S: In relation to that, how much support are they giving you for FCAT preparation?
D: I don't know that they give us any specific support for that. I think basically what
they do is give us our teacher allocations and our budget and say, these are our
expectations, and our expectations from our school board are very high, which is
okay, I don't have a problem with that. I wouldn't want the school board coming in
and saying, we're going to give you this amount of money for FCAT preparation. I
wouldn't want them doing that. I want them to let Gainesville High School and
myself and our teachers and our parents decide how that's going to be done.
S: How would you improve the FCAT?
D: I don't know that I would do anything to improve the test. I said earlier I think it's a
pretty good test. I think what I would do in terms of the way it's used, is just
simply change the way it's used. Number one, I don't agree with bonuses going
to schools that score well on a test like that. I just think it's unfair. Number two, if
you want to hold me accountable for something, hold me accountable for the
growth my students make from one year to the next. Right now, our school grade
is based upon two things: it's based upon the percentage of students who scored
high on the FCAT, a three or above is considered high performing students, the
other part is based on its growth. I simply do not think it's fair that if a school like
Buchholz, an upper middle-class school, their kids are going to come in and their
scores are already going to be significantly higher than these kids at GHS or
Eastside. That's just the way it is. Why should anybody expect that between ninth
and tenth grade, I'm going to be able to do more with those kids than Buccholz
can. Now I do get credit for growth, and I get penalized if they don't grow, but I
think if you're going to hold me accountable for anything, hold me accountable for
how much growth students at Gainesville High School make from the time they
hit high school in the ninth grade to the time they leave in the twelfth grade.
That's what we all ought to be held accountable for. If we don't want to be
accountable for that, we shouldn't be in the profession. But the way the FCAT is
used, it's an unfair system. The test itself is fine. It's an unfair system, and I don't
think there's any way to make a standardized test totally fair. If they wanted to do
anything, they'd say, guys, from here on out, we're going to look at your growth
scores. The schools that are scoring very high on it right now would say, that's
not fair, because if you're scoring very high to begin with, it's hard to make a
years growth. There's arguments on both sides, but any kind of high stakes test
like that that is used as the sole method of judging the effectiveness of your
school, I think that's just so unfair, and it's unfair to all of the schools, not just my
school. It's unfair to all the schools; it's unfair to the kids. Standardized test
scores are one little part, one little measure, of what a high school should be
about, and yet that is the only thing our effectiveness is measured on right now.
S: I know the students don't like the FCAT, and I know they certainly feel the
pressure of the school on them, what have you been doing to alleviate a lot of the
anxiety for the students?
D: I don't know that we've done anything that's really significant.
S: Can you do anything?
D: I think when you put a kid in a class and say, you're going to take this test and
whether you pass it or not will determine whether or not you get a diploma, I don't
know that there's a whole lot you can do to alleviate the anxiety for a student who
knows they don't test well, who knows they struggle to read or struggle with
math. That's going to produce a lot of anxiety. The only thing I tell our kids is
when they go in there, and I kind of talk to them over the intercom as a school
right before we take the test, I just say the standard kinds of things. Guys, at this
point in time, you've done all you can to prepare, and your teachers have done
all they can. You just need to relax, work as hard as you can, and not worry
about it. That's a real easy thing for me to say, but for a kid, take if you're a
senior for example. You've already failed it three times. You're in there for the
fourth time and graduation is looming right around the corner and you know if you
don't pass it this time you're not going to get a standard diploma when you
leave-I don't think there's anything I can say to that kid to alleviate their anxiety.
It's going to be there.
S: What about the student who doesn't test well? The FCAT is good at saying
what's wrong with the student and where there are problems, but if you don't test
well, can you think of another way of allowing them to graduate and maybe
forming another section of the FCAT for students who do not test well?
D: I don't have a solution for that. I really don't, because I do understand that the
public- I'm not going to put this on just the governor and the legislature-the
public in general has the perception that we're graduating a lot of kids that aren't
prepared. I think that perception is, to some degree, accurate. What the
legislature and the governor has said is, we're going to make sure that they're
prepared, and the only way we know to do that is with a standardized test. I don't
have a better method, so I don't have a solution to that problem. I do think that if
people paid more attention to curriculum and instruction in schools, what the
schools are teaching and are the teachers being effective in their instructional
methods-not just throwing the book at the kids and saying, read the chapter and
answer the questions at the end-but are they really teaching? I think what you
would find is that as a whole, your kids would be more literate than they are now
coming out. I don't think a standardized test is going to make kids suddenly
literate that haven't been. I think that takes great teaching. We'll pass a few
more. It's amazing that you can have a score that deviates by just two or three
points in a school that's seen as excellent or fair, you can have that, but I don't
know that that two or three points is really significant at all in terms of what's
happening to those kids in that classroom. I personally don't think it is.
I think if the state would pay a whole lot more attention to teacher preparation, a
whole lot more attention to attracting the right kind of people in to the teaching
profession, you would have a much, much greater impact. I'm off the topic, but I'll
preach a little bit now. I've always said that if you want to improve public
education in Florida you do two things. You do them immediately and it would
take about four years before you would see the impact. Number one, do away
with teacher tenure. You're year-to-year, and as long as you're performing, you
will be rehired. Secondly, give teachers at least a 50 percent raise over whatever
they're making right now. If you've got a teacher making $30,000, then they're
going to give up tenure, but next year they're going to be making $45,000. If you
suddenly did that you would suddenly see young people saying, teaching doesn't
sound so bad. You can get a teaching degree and you can start off at $45,000 a
year, and you can work your way up to maybe $70,000 a year, and suddenly it
becomes possible to raise a family on a teacher's salary. So you start attracting a
lot better candidates in. The other thing you do is you start cutting the dead wood
out. People say you can get rid of a tenured teacher. Yeah, you can, but it's a
hell of a hard thing to do. Those two things, within five years, would improve
education in Florida dramatically much more than any standardized test will ever
do. The quality of education is directly dependent on the quality of teacher out
there in the classroom. You can do anything else you want to do, but if you've got
weak teachers, you're not going to have quality education. If you've got great
teachers, I could be a terrible principal in a building that's falling down around
me, if I've got great teachers in every single classroom, I'm going to have a great
school and kids are going to learn a lot.
S: You're not instilling fear into the students or the teachers either.
D: Great teachers inspire kids. You can't scare a kid into learning and you can't
intimidate them into learning. Great teachers inspire kids. But inspired teaching is
not an easy thing to do.
S: That's all the questions I have for you. Is there anything else you want to
D: I can't think of anything. I've probably been on my soapbox enough for one
afternoon. I wish you luck with your project.
S: Thank you very much.
D: Don't get discouraged by people telling you not to get into education. There are a
lot of rewards for getting into education, just money isn't one of them.
[End of Interview.]