Independent News
August 3, 2006

Left Behind Part 1: Heathcare

Who's providing healthcare for the poor and uninsured?

by DUWAYNE ESCOBEDO

Rosalynda Blackburn shuffles slowly to the exam room at the Escambia Community Clinics. Two back operations on her spine and degenerative discs have gnarled up the feisty woman like an old oak tree.

The 55-year-old twice suffered ruptured discs in 1984 and 1986 working on draw twisters, which made nylon for clothing and other products at the former Monsanto plant. The job required her to lift up to 30 pounds of nylon from near the floor to above her head.

An orthopedic physician told her back then she'd be stuck in a wheelchair by now. Not easy news to hear for a woman who raised three boys by herself and often worked two or more jobs to support her family.

"I tell 'em now, they gotta catch me first," she says. "I don't even walk fast anymore but they gotta catch me to get in it. As long as God allows me to walk, I'm going to do that."

Pain from her back injuries that affects the use of her arms and legs made her stop working at a nursing home in 1996. She also suffers from high-blood pressure and clinical depression.

But because her injuries made her unable to hold down a job, she lost health insurance coverage. Social Security refused to give her benefits claiming she had "no documentation" of her debilitating health problems.

For five years, she suffered back pain and depression without visiting any doctors and surviving from help from family, friends and her church.

Finally, she heard about Escambia Community Clinics in 2001, which provides healthcare to the poor and uninsured. She learned she might qualify for free healthcare. Her blood pressure was so high when she finally arrived that doctors told her she was close to suffering a deadly stroke, she recalls.

"This place has been a life saver to me," she says, tearing up at the memory. "I didn't see doctors for years and years. I didn't have money to go to a doctor. I thought I could handle it myself. I couldn't."

Today, Blackburn regularly visits the clinic in Pensacola on the corner of Palafox and Maxwell streets, which is packed with about 50 people on a recent Monday morning.

She receives—free of charge—medication for blood pressure and other ailments from Escambia Community Clinics and medication for her depression from Lakeview Center, a mental healthcare clinic. Still, her sons chip in every month and buy about $300 worth of medications she can't get and needs, she says.

Blackburn remains without health insurance but the clinic and an attorney are now trying to help her qualify for federal assistance again.

You might think, Blackburn is a unique case. Well, she's not, according to the Comprehensive Assessment for Tracking Health 2005 study. The 600-page assessment, which was released July 27, reports that health problems in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties are continuing to get worse and worse in many areas since 1995, especially among minorities and the poor.

Meanwhile, it's estimated 1 in every 5 residents are uninsured, or about 61,400. That's up 14 percent, since 2003. And by 2015, 1 in every 4 residents, or about 90,600, are expected to lack health coverage.

"Without health insurance, you have people who don't want to handle you," Blackburn says. "I have no income whatsoever. I had no one to turn to. Without this clinic, I wouldn't have lived another six months back in 2001."

Jim Mills, the Partnership for a Healthy Community president, admits the problem is complex and troubling.

"The picture is not entirely bleak," he says. "We have four community hospitals where the quality of care is outstanding. But the assessment doesn't answer some tough questions. Why are some health problems so severe? What's the solution? These are questions that as a community we have to answer in the days and months ahead."

Assessment 2005's troubling results for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, which show health problems worse than similar counties and the state average, include:

• Smoking-related cancers and lung cancer in both counties;

• Cardiovascular and heart disease in both counties;

• Patients suffering from depressive disorders and elderly abuse in both counties;

• Repeat births to teen-agers in Escambia County;

• Proliferation of diabetes in Escambia County; and

• Health-risk behaviors in Escambia County.

In addition, the comprehensive study, which is conducted every five years and focuses on 430 specific health indicators, reveals that "poor health outcomes tend to be more prevalent in areas where there are large numbers of minority and/or lower income residents."

Don Turner, Escambia Community Clinic administrator, says the clinic will treat about 34,000 visits this year and provide about $3 million in charity care, or healthcare that is provided free of charge or isn't paid for at its location, which is open seven days a week. Sacred Heart Health System and Baptist Health Care, which help fund the clinic, provide an estimated $20 million each year in charity care.

"It's always busy," he says. "We have more people seeking treatment than we have time, money or resources. We do the best we can to meet the need at a fraction of the cost."

It costs Escambia Community Clinic on average about $86 to treat each patient it sees, which is estimated to be about four times less than the roughly $350 it costs to provide care to similar patients in emergency rooms at local hospitals.

Visits by the uninsured to the more expensive ERs drives up healthcare costs, costing those locally, who do have health insurance, about $31.6 million a year in expenses that are passed on.

Healthcare leaders say, as a result of the worsening health problems revealed by the Assessment 2005 study, they plan to call on residents, doctors, business leaders and local government officials to begin looking at solutions.

Some solutions they mention, include grassroots partnerships among local agencies to provide care and education. A ½-cent sales tax to provide about $14 million a year in healthcare to the poor is also being considered, and may go before voters in March 2007 for approval.

Although Turner says the root causes of the high rates of diabetes, for instance, need to be examined, he's convinced a big reason for the health problems being seen among the poor is the simple lack of access to care.

"I hope this will be a call to action for our leadership in the community," he says.

David Sjoberg, a Baptist Health Care executive and the Partnership for a Healthy Community treasurer, agrees with Turner about providing more care to the poor and uninsured.

"When we do this assessment again in five years, we'll see all these health problems again and they'll be worse, unless we really address the issues," he says. "It's pretty evident something needs to be done."

Mills adds: "I don't believe Washington or Tallahassee is going to come up with solutions for the problems we have in Escambia and Santa Rosa. Our hospitals are overwhelmed. Our community clinics are overwhelmed. We'd all like to see these indicators going in different directions than they are going."

So would Susan Croft, who doesn't make enough money at her job as a cleaning lady to afford insurance. She says she'd pay in blood or plasma donations, if there was such a thing. She suffers from insomnia from severe headaches she receives, she says, as she awaits medication at the Escambia Community Clinics. Croft admits she splits her pills in half to make her prescriptions last longer.

"If we didn't have some place like this, there would be nowhere to go," she says. "I need care. I am uninsured and one of the working poor. I have no choice."

Todd Cissell says he, too, has no choice currently. The 38-year-old construction worker recently got out of jail and is unemployed. But he admits as a construction worker, he rarely had health benefits.

"This is the first time, I have ever been to a clinic in my life," says Cissell, who came in for relief from migraines he's suffering. "I've always worked and am kind of embarrassed by the whole situation. But I'm down on my luck and medicine is so high you can't hardly afford it."

Mike Ziehl and his wife, Edna, didn't believe either that they would ever lack health insurance or go without healthcare. But they did.

A former store president for a national pizza chain, he was in a car accident, resulting in two shoulder surgeries and elbow surgery. He then developed staph infections in his spine that "felt like a belt of spikes around me." His medical bills quickly climbed into the tens of thousands of dollars and his health problems cost him his job, he says.

Without health insurance, he sat in his recliner for nine months and was in pain 23 hours a day, hoping he would get better, he says. Before his accident, he used to walk four miles a day with his wife around Cordova Mall.

Ziehl says a local hospital refused to give him the treatment he needed. So, finally tired of suffering, he walked into the Escambia Community Clinic and it placed him in Baptist Hospital for treatment. The 57-year-old Ziehl also suffers from diabetes and high cholesterol.

"The only reason I'm alive is because the clinic and Baptist Hospital helped me out," he says. "This can happen to anyone. You lose your job and you lose your benefits and all of a sudden you're not covered. I was scared to death. I can't believe I'm still here."

BREAKOUT:

Healthcare crisis of the poor and uninsured

• More than 61,400 of the 313,000 residents of Escambia County have no health insurance coverage and are not eligible for any publicly-funded program.

• In 2006, 1 out of every 5 residents of the county will be uninsured.

• The percentage of Escambia County residents without health coverage is nearly 20 percent and exceeds the national average of 16 percent.

• The number of uninsured and medically poor in Escambia County is expected to grow to more than 90,600 by the year 2015, or more than 1 out of every 4 residents.

• Over the same period of time, the total number of residents with health coverage is expected to decline (from about 162,000 to 151,000).

• Nearly 4 out of 5 residents with no health insurance are employed.

• In 1999, according to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, 91 percent of Florida employers provided health coverage benefits to employees. In 2003, that figure declined to 73 percent.

• During the same period, costs for health insurance rose 58.6 percent.

• The majority of employers, who do not offer coverage, cite high cost or limited access to group health insurance as the reason.

• Escambia County is the 15th most populous county in the state of Florida, but ranks 28th among 67 counties in per capita income and 66th among the 67 Florida counties in spending for health and human services.

• More than 17 percent of Escambia County's population lives in households with total incomes less than $15,000 per year.

• Uninsured and medically poor residents forego medical treatment that they cannot afford and ultimately seek care in emergency rooms.

• For this population, chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are not managed appropriately and prescription medications are not taken as needed, causing conditions to worsen and become increasingly expensive to treat.

• Emergency rooms at hospitals in Escambia County consistently operate above capacity and experienced more than 170,000 visits during 2005.

• In 2004 and 2005 the effects of the hurricanes which struck the area exacerbated the problem.

Source: AccessEscambia

NOTE To Reader: More healthcare statistics compiled for the area were also provided with the story.


Independent News
August 10, 2006

Left Behind Part 2: Housing

Where is low-income housing?

by DUWAYNE ESCOBEDO

Charles Luckey heard from his neighbors that his home in Morris Court is being demolished and he and his bedridden wife, Alvener, must find some place else to live.

The elderly couple, who are both 74-years-old, have lived in the modest, low-income house since 1976. But Luckey swears he has yet to receive any written notice or to speak with someone from the Area Housing Commission, which oversees the public housing at Morris Court.

He has just returned from another afternoon looking at apartments with his daughter, Sharon Richardson, with no success. Currently, they pay about $325 a month in rent at Morris Court. He reports being unable to find anything under $700 a month at apartments around town.

Luckey worries that on their fixed income they will end up living somewhere rundown and unsafe for an elderly couple, or worse, homeless. He worries about his neighbors, too.

"They are putting us out. It's hard, real hard," says Luckey, who worked at the Medical Center Clinic for 30 years. "Day to day we wonder what we're going to do and what's going to be our next move. We don't want to be run out onto the streets. But we're going to ride it out as long as we can."

Richardson, Luckey's 48-year-old daughter, is livid with the Area Housing Commission's decision to demolish Morris Court's 35 low-income units and replace them with 75 more expensive affordable housing units in a $12 million project headed by Carlisle Development Group.

"To me, it looks like a plan to make money at poor people's expense," she says. "They know there's no other place to go. Any way you look at it, they're getting kicked to the curb."

Scared, discouraged and frustrated the Luckey family admittedly has little hope left that their situation will get any better or that Morris Court, which was built in the 1940s near M and Gonzalez streets, will avoid being leveled.

"I doubt it very seriously. They've done made up their minds and that's it," Luckey says. Adds Richarson: "I think all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed and they're going to boot everybody out."

John Rand shares the same worries about his family's uncertain future. He filled out an AHC application for public housing but he has not heard back from the office in two weeks. The 61-year-old, who worked at Florida Drum Company for 17 years, lives with his wife and two children at Morris Court on his social security disability check.

"I'm not too good with words, but I don't like the situation the way it's going," he says. "We're used to being around here and it's on my mind we could end up in a worse area. I wish they would do like they did on another project and move us out, rebuild and we would be able to move back in."

Mattie Phelps, an 89-year-old widow, is being moved across the street temporarily until it's also torn down for the new AHC complex. She moved to Morris Court a few years ago, after living at the low-income Escambia Arms apartment complex.

She's hoping a daughter will be able to get vacation time and make it from Virginia to help her pack and move. Four cardboard boxes sit next to her sofa table that's dominated by a thick, black, 8-by-12-inch Holy Bible in her cluttered living room, which lacks air conditioning but has a fan blowing.

"They are not helping me move," says Phelps, a former office worker who volunteered at the Escambia Council on Aging for years and keeps a framed "Certification of Appreciation" as a top volunteer in her living room. "They said we got to be on our own. But I'm not scared. I've never been a big complainer. I just give it to the Lord."

Phelps' conversations with God just might be answered.

Greater Pensacola Community Organization's Board President Rev. Willie Williams and Executive Director Richard Papantonio heard about the plight of 35 families in Morris Court.

Through their efforts, they've enlisted the help of the Interfaith Housing Coalition, Catholic Charities and plan to talk to a group of Baptist ministers.

They hope to stop the $12 million project, until more low-income housing becomes available or is built. They're also checking into whether because the U.S. Housing and Urban Development turned over the Morris Court site to AHC in 1983, only low-income housing can be developed there.

Williams points to the severe shortage of low-income housing in the area and scoffs at AHC Executive Director Mike Rogers' assurances that the Morris Court residents will be given preference for openings at one of the housing commission's six other complexes.

Williams says, even though housing authorities began planning the redevelopment three years ago, it failed to adequately inform the Morris Court residents until a few months ago.

"There is no affordable places for these people to go," he says. "This isn't being handled professionally at all. These people are not being taken care of. They're being pushed aside. What's being done to them is heartless. These are the people we have to fight extra hard for because they're so humble, trusting and good hearted."

The city does report helping relocate 10 of 11 Morris Court families on federal rental assistance. Rogers could not be reached for comment by the Independent News for this story.

Williams willingly takes people on a tour around Pensacola to public housing projects or apartment complexes that accept low-income tenants.

For example, demolition is ongoing at Dogwood Apartments near the Kmart on Mobile Highway; the Forest Creek Apartments off Navy Boulevard still has one complex that was burnt down about three months ago; and Twin Oaks Villas Apartments near Navy Boulevard and New Warrington Road still has two complexes to rebuild from 2004 hurricane damages.

Others have been completely wiped out or reduced by Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis, revitalization, Superfund sites and other reasons. Some examples include Aragon Court, Escambia Arms, Maison de Ville and Lexington Court.

Besides the storms leaving an estimated 2,000 families homeless in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, local housing experts also report a "severe" shortage because of FEMA pressure to move families out of trailers and cuts in federal rental assistance to the poor under the Bush administration.

The Pensacola Housing Department says it currently has about 100 unutilized federal rental assistance grants, or Section 8 vouchers, because the families cannot find program eligible housing. It has a waiting list of about 800 people. Currently, it assists about 1,600 people with its $8 million a year rent assistance program, which the Bush administration cut by more than $1 million in 2004.

More factoids to consider in the housing crisis: 17,514 families in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, who rent homes, pay more than they can afford for their housing, which is considered more than 50 percent of their income. That's 38 percent of the total renting population.

Sandra King, Catholic Charities program coordinator of emergency assistance, says about 150 people come to her office every day and a majority are looking for rental assistance.

"We need to have programs attacking the housing situation very aggressively here," says King, a local social caseworker for 29 years. "We need more housing. We were facing a shortage even before the hurricanes. They just magnified the problem."

Pensacola officials began attacking the problem during the past year by identifying properties that can be redeveloped for low-income or affordable housing and changing its zoning and building codes.

And the Florida Legislature, recognizing the problem arising from the storms and the state's booming real estate market, passed a measure this year encouraging public-private partnerships to develop workforce housing. It also provided $50 million for the program considered one of the first of its kind in the country.

Locally, one group that is tackling the problem is the Interfaith Housing Coalition, which Pensacola-Tallahassee Bishop John Ricard, along with other prominent religious leaders in the community, created shortly after Hurricane Ivan in 2004 to address affordable housing.

The coalition is planning to redevelop 26 acres near Catholic High School into a blend of affordable and low-income housing for the area.

Bill Compton, IHC director of housing and a veteran community planner, says he's surprised at the lack of response and innovative ideas to the problem when he took over in September.

"The market has made a lot of places unaffordable with the low incomes of this area," he says. "It's tough. We don't need to create another ghetto for 200 poor people. We do need more areas with mixed income and mixed use. I don't like the design model where you just have $125,000 homes, $200,000 homes or half a million dollar homes. You need to put affordable units in the mix."

The Area Housing Commission's $12 million plans to rebuild Morris Court will not include low-income housing, Papantonio points out.

"How can they get away with it?" the GPCO director asks. "We're going to rebuild and drive out the impoverished?"

Before leaving their homes on a recent visit to Morris Court, Williams promises the Luckeys, Rands and Phelps that help is on the way.

"We're going to fight this," he says. "It's not right to keep stamping out low-income places. You can't keep pushing these people around, when there's no place to go."

BREAKOUT:

Affordable Housing in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties: From Problem to Crisis

In Escambia and Santa Rosa counties 33,537 families pay more than they can afford for their housing—that's nearly a quarter of the population. Almost half of these families pay more than 50 percent of their income to keep a roof over their heads.

If you are a renter, the news is even worse. 17,514 families renting homes pay more than they can afford for their housing—that's 38 percent of the total renting population. Again, almost half of these families pay more than 50 percent of their income to keep a roof over their heads.

Here's the really bad news: These statistics are from 2002, pre-dating the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. The situation has only gotten worse.

Prior to the hurricanes there was a need for safe, decent housing that could be afforded by the workforce—teachers, policemen, nurses, firemen, public servants, young couples just starting their families. The hurricanes have only exacerbated an already growing problem.

As the gap between incomes and housing costs widened year by year, suddenly the Pensacola area and the greater Gulf Coast were hit by successive hurricanes, tropical storms and extraordinary Spring rains causing flooding and hampering the rebuilding process.

As the loss of housing from storm damage placed unusual demands on the housing market rents went up 12 percent, median home prices went up 60 percent and median incomes went up 19 percent from 2000 to 2005.

The affordability gap became a chasm. Add to the mix the families remaining in FEMA group shelter sites, who must find permanent housing soon, and there is an affordable housing crisis that is brewing in the Northwest Florida region.

Source: Interfaith Housing Coalition

 

Independent News
August 17, 2006

Left Behind Part 3: Education

How are children being taught?

by DUWAYNE ESCOBEDO

Stacked high on the shelves and stuffed in the cabinets in a room in the Hallmark Elementary School’s library are packs of unopened T-shirts, socks and underwear. There are also shoes, jackets and other clothes.

When class begins in the morning, teachers make sure everyone ate breakfast, especially children who show up late. If not, they’re provided fruit cups, Pop Tarts or other food. On Fridays, school officials plan to begin sending home food with some of its students, who otherwise might go without eating much, or anything, on the weekend.

Lessons include ones on self-esteem, self-respect and responsibility.

Yes, before it can began teaching its students the three R’s, Hallmark teachers must first attend to the other basics—food, clothes and behavior.

The inner-city Pensacola school is one of the poorest in the Escambia County School District. Of the school’s 250 students, 93 percent qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program and 97 percent are minority.

It has the distinction of being one of the oldest schools, too, with students being taught at the school near the corner of E and Garden streets for more than 100 years.

Last year, it was a D school, according to Florida’s statewide standardized test. That was an improvement from an F.

When national education experts talk about the achievement gap and when federal lawmakers talk about the No Child Left Behind Act, which was passed in 2001 to close that gap, schools like Hallmark Elementary are on their mind—high poverty, minority and low achieving.

But you wouldn’t guess that by talking to Elizabeth Zachry. The tall 11-year-old with pig tails in her hair can’t wait to begin classes in the new makeshift science lab the school is starting.

“It’s exciting,” the 5th grader says. “I like science. I want to be an archaeologist and travel the world and learn about what happened in the past.”

Her enthusiasm for school is matched by classmate Mitchell Maxwell. The 10-year-old wants to become an athletic trainer or doctor, if a career in the NBA doesn’t become a reality.

“School is fantastic,” he says. “I work real hard. I’m trying to stay on the A-B honor roll, so I can grow up and be whatever I want to be.”

Neither one of them mentioned any plans to be left behind.

And their teachers and principal, Sharee Cagle, expect them to succeed, too.

Cagle began her education career more than 20 years ago as a 5th grade teacher at Spencer Bibbs Elementary School, one much like Hallmark in its makeup. She’s writing her dissertation for her doctorate degree from the University of West Florida on how to turn around a failing school.

That first day as a teacher at Spencer Bibbs was one of her hardest, she recalls. None of her students were at the 5th grade level.

“Nobody is prepared as a teacher for that,” she says. “I don’t care what college you’ve graduated from. Nobody is prepared that first day when you have challenges like we do in our inner-city schools. Teaching here is a lot more difficult.”

But talking to Cagle, whose energy is infectious, it becomes clear she doesn’t make excuses and not much stands in her way.

When she took over at Hallmark last year, she had her staff give her all the reasons the school was failing. Reasons ranged from lack of parental involvement to poverty.

“I told them those were all excuses and our duty is to fix them,” she says.

So, when teachers noticed Hallmark students in shoes too big, too small or wearing their mother’s slippers or saw their students lacked jackets or sweatshirts in the cold weather, they turned to Perdido Bay United Methodist Church, which donated the shoes and clothing.

When children acted up, they traced it to many of them going without breakfast. The church helps feed them, too. And Hallmark’s discipline referrals dropped from 580 to 70.

Cagle had to replace 17 of the 26 teachers when she came to Hallmark, because they so disliked the environment. Because it’s a low achieving school, teachers there have the first shot at jobs at other schools.

She lost seven teachers last year and says only one wanted to leave. To try to retain her teachers, Cagle got State Farm to donate 27 laptop computers. If a teacher stays at Hallmark for three years, they get to keep the laptop.

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test begins testing on science this year. Only 3 percent of Hallmark’s students passed the practice science test last year. If the score had counted, Hallmark would have become a failing school.

So, Cagle is starting a science lab, thanks to Perdido Bay United Methodist, State Farm and Sacred Heart Health System doctors donating money for a demonstration table, microscopes, lab coats and other material for her 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. The University of West Florida is planning to help teach the science class once a week at the school.

To help get parents involved, again, she requires them to come to the school to pick up their children’s report cards. If they don’t show up, Cagle goes to their house.

The Methodist church is also helping Cagle implement a program to send Hallmark’s most needy students home for the weekend with a backpack full of food that doesn’t have to be cooked.

Jacci Shumaker, a physical education teacher for 24 years, grew up in the Hallmark neighborhood and plans to run for Pensacola City Council in District 7 in 2008. She’s always bought into Cagle’s school slogan, “Success is the only option!”

“This is where I’m needed most, not N.B. Cook or Cordova Park,” Shumaker says. “I know everyone here is on a mission. We have a purpose. We’re getting there. We’ll do what we have to do.”

For Shumaker that includes teaching bicycle and swimming safety, taking students, some of who have never been to the beach or the zoo, on field trips, recruiting mentors, going out into the community and talking to parents face-to-face and teaching pride.

“Some of the children will not look you in the eye, they look down,” she says. “We have to teach self esteem and self respect. We’re raising citizens, not just students. We want them to learn good habits that will stay with them after they leave Hallmark. If we don’t do it, who will?”

Lynnette Edwards is a rarity. She’s taught for 23 years at Hallmark. It’s her mission, one motivated by May Avery, who was her family’s housekeeper and like a mother to her, and who Edwards discovered as she grew up couldn’t read very well.

She drills the importance of vocabulary and reading into her students.

“Most of my students are from one-parent families and many of them are holding down two jobs,” she says. “Most of the parents do care if their children get a good education. I try to get the children to see they can go as far as they want to go; they’re as smart as everyone else.”

Still, the statistics are stacked against Cagle’s, Shumaker’s and Edwards’ students.

In Escambia County, more than 85 percent of whites have graduated from high school compared with 72 percent of blacks. About 24 percent of white Escambia County residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with about 10 percent of black county residents.

In Escambia County, 13,538 of its 15,800 (86 percent) black students qualified for the free or reduced lunch program. In Santa Rosa County, 809 of 1,322 (61 percent) of its black students did. Meanwhile, graduation rates were lower and dropout rates were higher among blacks in both counties’ school systems.

Those numbers come as no surprise to Elvin McCorvey, the NAACP Pensacola chapter president and an educator for 38 years. He calls the older inner city schools “a crime,” says teachers lack incentive and training to teach in high poverty and minority schools and that local governments and organizations are ignoring poverty in the community.

“Yes, we want to help improve the achievement of our kids,” McCorvey, a teacher for 12 years, says. “But we’re fooling our kids into thinking there’s a pie in the sky. It’s not there, until we deal with these grassroots issues that are quality of life issues. We as a community haven’t done anything to correct the poverty that these kids are living in. At the same time, our school districts have to get real and put programs in place that address poverty in those communities, otherwise we will never solve all these issues.”

They are issues that are being faced and tackled across Florida and the country.

Harvard University Civil Rights Project researcher Gary Orfield concludes in a recent in-depth report that the No Child Left Behind Act is failing. The President Bush initiative put in place in 2001 has resulted in neither a significant rise in achievement or closure of the achievement gap for minority and poor children, the study found.

“In Shakesperean terms, we’ve been experiencing a massive process ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,’” Orfield says. “The best research suggests that school reform takes time, that investments must be made in curriculum and instruction and that sustaining educational improvement in high poverty schools is difficult at best.”

Orfield says the No Child Left Behind Act and such assessment tests also have a negative effect on teachers counted on to raise student achievement.

“Particularly in low-income schools judged as failures, there often is a tendency to move into highly formulaic and rigidly programmed curriculum, boring to both students and teachers, and, worse yet, to spend time not on teaching their subjects but on drilling on test-taking strategies,” he says. “Teachers have long tended to transfer out of low-income, minority schools as they gain experience. Excessive test pressure tends to accelerate this process, compounding the schools’ problems, since experienced teachers are a precious resource for schools.”

Tom Gallagher, a Republican candidate for governor, helped implement Gov. Jeb Bush’s education reforms as the state’s Department of Education secretary. He handed out the vouchers, called “Opportunity Scholarships” to 57 Spencer Bibbs and A.A. Dixon students a few years ago that allowed them to attend private schools, since those schools failed the FCAT. But the Florida Supreme Court struck down the voucher program.

He sees the FCAT school grades, vouchers, charter schools and higher principal and teacher pay all as ways to improve low-income and minority students’ education.

“No one is happy with a D or F school,” he says. “Poverty is just one of many excuses. I’ve seen a Dade County school where poverty was 90 percent and 30 different languages were spoken. Yet the principal and his teachers went in there and turned it around.”

Gallagher says he hopes in 2008 vouchers will go on the ballot as an amendment to the Florida Constitution.

“The Spencer Bibbs and Dixon parents had a choice for the first time,” he says. “They know there’s one ticket out of there and that ticket is education. I’ll never forget how excited they all were.”

Meanwhile, Cagle promises to do whatever it takes to make sure Hallmark students are not left behind, whether that’s marching in a cheerleading outfit around the school in a parade that celebrates the honor roll students or filling in as a substitute teacher.

“I have children who have never been to the beach or seen an escalator,” she says. “They haven’t been exposed to things that a lot of other children have been exposed to. Their parents are barely making ends meat. It’s not that they can’t learn. They can. We expect them to keep making big gains, we expect them to finish middle school and high school and we expect them to finish college.”

BREAKOUT:

What Causes The Gaps?

The National Education Association gathered 150 education leaders from 38 states in November for a working meeting to address closing achievement gaps. They concluded there is “no simple explanation,” and report various factors contribute to or underlie the gaps:

● The multiple effects of poverty

● Poor home and community learning opportunities

● Discrimination

● Inadequate healthcare

● Substandard housing and high rates of mobility

 

Source: National Education Association

BREAKOUT:

No Child Left Behind?

The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University recently released an in-depth report on achievement gaps and the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act implemented in 2001 by President George Bush’s administration. The report, “Tracking achievement gaps and assessing the impact of NCLB on the gaps: An in-depth look into national and state reading and math outcome trends,” can be viewed on the Internet at http://www.civilrightsproject.harvard.edu. Here are the key findings:

1. NCLB did not have a significant impact on improving reading and math achievement across the nation and states. Based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress results, the national average achievement remains flat in reading and grows at the same pace in math after NCLB than before. In grade 4 math, there was a temporary improvement right after NCLB, but it was followed by a return to the pre-reform growth rate. Consequently, continuation of the current trend will leave the nation far behind the NCLB target of 100 percent proficiency by 2014. Only 24 to 34 percent of students will meet the NAEP proficiency target in reading and 29 to 64 percent meeting math proficiency by 2014.

2. NCLB has not helped the nation and states significantly narrow the achievement gap. The racial and socioeconomic achievement gap in the NAEP reading and math achievement persists after NCLB. Despite some improvement in reducing the gap in math right after NCLB, the progress was not sustained. If the current trend continues, the proficiency gap between advantaged White and disadvantaged minority students will hardly close by 2014. The study predicts that by 2014, less than 25 percent of Poor and Black students will achieve NAEP proficiency in reading, and less than 50 percent will achieve proficiency in math.

3. NCLB’s attempt to scale up the alleged success of states that adopted test-driven accountability policy prior to NCLB, so-called first generation accountability states (e.g., Florida, North Carolina, Texas) did not work. It neither enhanced the first generation states’ earlier academic improvement nor transferred the effects of a test-driven accountability system to states that adopted test-based accountability under NCLB, the second generation accountability states. Moreover, both first and second generation states failed to narrow NAEP reading and math achievement gaps after NCLB.

4. NCLB’s reliance on state assessment as the basis of school accountability is misleading since state-administered tests tend to significantly inflate proficiency levels and proficiency gains as well as deflate racial and social achievement gaps in the states. The higher the stakes of state assessments, the greater the discrepancies between NAEP and state assessment results. These discrepancies were particularly large for Poor, Black and Hispanic students.

 

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