I have spent many days over the past year visiting public schools throughout Florida that state education officials say need the most help. The state makes its determination about these schools based almost entirely on test scores – and they don’t dig any deeper than that.

What I saw at our Priority Schools and learned from talking to the dedicated teachers and education staff professionals who work there is that they feel they and their students have been let down by an accountability system out of control. They have been labeled inappropriately and those in charge have neglected their students. Our members stay in these schools because they believe in them; they believe in their students and they believe in the communities these schools serve.

I honestly cannot understand why state education officials fail to take poverty into consideration in these schools. I cannot fathom why their solution is to punish and turn up the pressure on these schools and students instead of offering top-notch resources to make positive changes. When a hurricane hits Florida, the state immediately mobilizes to get things back to normal in a heartbeat. Why don’t state officials act in the same manner when vulnerable students are at risk?

If we’re serious about every student’s future, let’s get serious about doing what works. This means providing resources to all schools — especially these Priority Schools — so students have the teachers, education staff professionals and the full support of the state to get what they need: more one-on-one attention, inviting classrooms, wraparound services and a well-rounded curriculum.

All students deserve learning opportunities, safe schools, classes small enough for one-on-one attention and modern tools and textbooks. All schools should provide community support services like nutrition, health and after-school programs for students who need it.
The needs and issues for Priority Schools are not diagnosed or addressed in our current system. They are simply covered up or used to denigrate the entire public education system. Our focus must be on systemwide improvement that will provide support to students and their families, as well as to our teachers and education staff professionals in Priority Schools.

The future of education must be based upon classrooms where teachers facilitate student learning; where students are engaged and have the flexibility to explore, where they are challenged to become independent researchers and thinkers. Our students need teachers who have the freedom to design lessons that ignite students’ natural curiosity, where students are motivated by their innate desire to learn, to extend their own learning in flexible classrooms and standards are met by building on student interests without being constrained by rigid, one-size-fits-all pacing guides. Our schools must shift from a measurement culture to a problem-solving and growth culture.

Every child deserves a good education and the opportunity to succeed in life. Their chances for success shouldn’t be hampered by the desire of some political leaders to shift resources to voucher schools and for-profit charters. Education isn’t just another opportunity to make a buck – it’s an investment in the future of our children – and our state.

Let’s not leave anyone behind.