David Mech for Palm Beach County School Board (District 3)

COMMON ISSUES FACING EDUCATION


Common issues facing education today include low graduation rates, merit pay for teachers, Common Core Standards, charter schools, magnet schools, school choice/voucher programs, year-round schools, early childhood education, outdated textbooks, school violence, school board term limits, and Achievement Matters for All. .

This page explains my position on all of these issues as well as relevant videos where you can learn more about these topics.

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Low Graduation Rates:


Everyone agrees that the on-time high school graduation rate in Palm Beach County needs to increase.  From FY2012 to FY2013, graduation rates in Palm Beach County fell from 77.0% to 76.3%, compared to a national graduation rate of 79%.  However, there are conflicting opinions about the best way to improve graduation rates.  As always, I prefer to examine the problem from a research perspective.


Aside from the overwhelming data in support of comprehensive sex education, which is proven effective in reducing teen pregnancy and subsequently increasing graduation rates (seeSex Education’ section of my website), Dr. Robert Balfanz, a senior education researcher at Johns Hopkins University, identified 3 highly predictive attributes related to a student’s likelihood of dropping out of high school.  These attributes, measured during the 6th grade (middle school), are a child 1) being absent from class more than 20% of the time, 2) failing a math or English class, and 3) having an unsatisfactory behavior grade in a core course.  Students with just one of the attributes are predicted with statistical certainty to have a 75% greater chance of dropping out of high school than other students, unless there was decisive intervention by the school. 


If elected to the School Board, I would work to develop intervention plans for these at-risk students, and I would propose internal research programs to collect more student data so that behavioral models could be developed to help predict better student outcomes.


Everyone agrees that high school graduation rates in Palm Beach County need to increase. However, there are conflicting opinions about how best to accomplish this objective.  I, as always, prefer to examine the problem from a research perspective.  Aside from the overwhelming data in support of comprehensive sex education, which is proven effective in reducing teen pregnancy and subsequently increasing graduation rates (see ‘Sex Education’ section of my website), Dr. Robert Balfanz, an education researcher at Johns Hopkins University, identified 3 highly predictive attributes related to a student’s likelihood of dropping out of high school.  These attributes, measured during the 6th grade (middle school), are a child 1) being absent from class more than 20% of the time, 2) failing a math or English class, and 3) having an unsatisfactory behavior grade in a core course.  Students with just one of the attributes are predicted with statistical certainty to have a 75% greater chance of dropping out of high school than other students, unless there was decisive intervention by the school.  
If elected to the School Board, I would work to develop intervention plans for these at-risk students, and I would propose internal research programs to collect more student data so that behavioral models could be developed to help predict better student outcomes.

Merit Pay for Teachers:


I do not support merit pay for teachers for two reasons: First, teachers do not get to choose the students in their class. If teacher A happens to draw a group of students who are over-achievers, while teacher B draws an under-achieving group, it is unlikely that teacher B’s students will excel relative to Teacher A’s, even if teacher B is a better teacher. Second, academic research suggests that money does not incentivize performance, unless the job requires no cognitive ability. Research shows that paying people more money actually decreases productivity, even with jobs that require only a minimal amount of cognitive ability.


The science-supported factors that affect motivation are autonomy, mastery and purpose. Thus, I would give teachers more autonomy in their classrooms to teach the material they want in the best way they deem appropriate; I would not fire of discipline teachers due to complaints from a few parents who happen to disagree with a particular teacher’s method; I would support extra teacher training and credentialing; and, I would support proven methods to help teachers feel a stronger sense of purpose in their jobs.

Common Core State Standards (Florida State Standards):


I support the Common Core State Standards.  I believe it is important to have a national baseline for educational effectiveness.  Implementing national standards, developed using an international model, helps researchers develop effective educational intervention programs.  States are welcome to compliment the common core standards by exceeding the baseline requirements. 

Charter Schools:


While I believe in a market economy, I do not believe in a market society.  Thus, I generally oppose charter schools. I believe that public money should remain in our public institutions.  Parents who want their kids in different schools always have the option to pay for private schools, which is why I believe charter schools, too, should be privatized. Additionally, the financial oversight of public funds going to privately run charter schools is often lacking.  Until we can improve financial accountability and transparency, I will continue to oppose charter schools.  Furthermore, overall (district-level) performance from charter school students is at or below that of traditional public schools, although comparing performance at similarly situated charter vs. traditional schools typically demonstrates increased student performance in the charter schools.  Moreover, I think diverting resources away from the public schools harms the overall system, resulting in schools that are under capacity (reducing economies of scale) and at risk of closure. If there are issues with a particular school that warrants parents sending their children elsewhere, we should be allocating more resources into the school to address the problem, not funneling resources away.  Lastly, I strongly believe in the political statement, “no taxation without representation.”  The fact that charter schools use public money while operating independently of (elected) school board policy and teacher unions runs counter to that philosophy.


However, studies show that successful charter schools often have a longer school year, longer school day, Saturday school, routine internal assessments, and long (90+ minutes) math and English periods.  The corresponding cost increases are typically offset with larger class sizes.  I believe these proven strategies should be implemented into our traditional public schools.


Additionally, if there is a particular principal at a charter school who is doing exceptionally well, I would recommend hiring him or her into a traditional school to make a similar impact.  Similarly, if there is a particular district policy that is preventing a traditional school from being successful, then that policy should be addressed so that all the traditional schools benefit.  Thus, I support looking at successful charter schools around the nation and asking what we can do at the traditional school level to mirror that success, without having to resort to funding charter schools of our own.

School Choice / Voucher Programs:


I oppose choice/voucher programs for much of the same reasons listed above in the ‘charter schools’ section.  These programs take money that would follow a student into a public school and divert it into a private school.  The research suggests that most voucher programs lead to comparable or worse test scores for almost all demographics. The other problem with vouchers is that not all students have to ability to get into the schools they want, so only a few select students are able to use the vouchers effectively, which isn’t fair to all students in the system.  Additionally, larger public schools have greater economies of scale.  By diverting students and funds from public schools into the private schools, those efficiencies are greatly reduced. Lastly, the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution mandates separation of church and state.  By allowing parents to use public money to essentially fund religious schools would be unconstitutional, in my view.

Magnet Schools:


I generally oppose magnet schools. While culinary arts, music and other specialized curriculum programs sound like a nice idea, I don’t believe these programs add marketable skills that are needed for students to be competitive in the marketplace of the future.


I believe our K-12 education programs should focus solidly on math, science, reading and writing, which give students a solid educational foundation from where they can be successful. At the high school level, students should have the option to take electives in business, engineering, law, personal finance, computer science and other marketable subjects.  I believe courses like culinary arts, Portuguese and other less-marketable skills should be taken privately or as electives at the college level, not publicly funded at the K-12 level.  Our elementary and secondary education systems need to prepare students with universal skills to be successful in the future.

Year-Round School:


I support a year-round school term.  I don’t believe it makes sense for kids to have many months off each summer, during which time many students are unproductive and forget much of what they learned in the previous session.  I would support offering year-round school year with a 2-week break every 3 months.  I would also support a longer school day.  The reason for my position is that our K-12 academic achievement pales in comparison to our European and Asian neighbors across the ponds.  We must make significant changes to how we educate our children if we are to compete effectively in the global economy.

Early Childhood Education:


I absolutely support early childhood education.  I believe students should begin school as early as age 3 or 4, and I would support an initiative to have publicly funded preschools available to all residents of Palm Beach County.

Textbooks:


I support online textbooks, which make it very easy for kids to access the latest material and easily find the relevant concepts they are looking for, while also reducing paper and printing costs.  Many schools, especially private schools, are moving toward online textbooks. Why have students lug around heavy textbooks and spend minutes searching for the relevant material when it is only a mouse-click away?

School Violence / Whether to Arm Teachers


At a recent candidate forum in Riviera Beach, a member of the audience asked the panel if we would support metal detectors in the schools, citing his experience that many students currently bring guns and knives to the local school.


I support metal detectors in the schools.  After all, metal detectors exist at the school district administrative offices (on Forest Hills Blvd.), so if it's good enough for the administrators then it's certainly good enough for our kids.


Additionally, I support the ability of teachers to carry a weapon on campus, assuming the teacher is licensed (CCW), well-trained, and commits to mandatory monthly practice at a local range. It often takes police several minutes to respond to an incident, so a well-trained teacher with a weapon could neutralize a threat much more efficiently, saving many lives.


On a national level, we are seeing a significant rise in school related violence involving the use of guns, knives, and related weapons. It's just a matter of time before something similar happens here in Palm Beach County. Thus, I think we have a responsibility to take necessary and decisive action before it's too late.  


Additionally, I think teachers who are permitted to carry weapons on campus would need to register their status with the District and local principal’s office.

School Board Term Limits


I opposed term limits because I believe voters should never be limited in their choice of candidates for office.  Assume you oppose raising taxes to fund new schools and that your current school board member is in agreement with that position.  When the next election arrives, two new candidates enter the race, both of who support raising taxes to fund schools, but the incumbent is prohibited from running for reelection due to a term limit.  In this case, the voter loses the ability to vote for the candidate who best represents his or her view, the incumbent candidate loses because he or she wants to run again but is prohibited from doing so, and the democratic process loses because the election has one less candidate to share a voice.  The beauty of the democratic system is that good officials can continue to be elected over and over again, and the bad ones can be voted out when necessary.  Thus, I believe imposing term limits is unfair to the candidates and unhealthy for the democratic process.

Achievement Matters for All


I generally support State Goals 1-5 and 8 of Achievement Matters for All.  Any opposition to this document is related to the singling out of specific racial and/or ethic groups.  I believe the school board should target under-performing schools for improvement, regardless of demographic distributions.  


Additionally, regarding State Goal 6 (Teachers and Staff), I welcome diversity in recruitment and hiring.  Thus, I support the hiring and retention of all underrepresented racial, gender, or related ethnic, social, or sexual minority groups. 


State Goal 1 - Readiness to Start School (SUPPORT)


State Goal 2 - Graduation Rate and Readiness for Post Secondary Education and Employment (SUPPORT)

State Goal 3 - Student Performance (SUPPORT)


State Goal 4 - Learning Environment (SUPPORT)

Regarding Policy Action Step 3.6, I would replace the word “FCAT” with “Common Core Standards.”


State Goal 5 - School Safety and Environment (SUPPORT)
Regarding Policy Action Step 5.3, I would replace “Black Police Officers” with “Police Officers from Underrepresented Racial, Gender or related Ethnic/Social/Sexual Minority Groups.”


State Goal 6 - Teachers and Staff (OPPOSE IN CURRENT FORM)
All specific references to “Black” and “African-American” would need to be replaced with “Underrepresented Racial, Gender or related Ethnic/Social/Sexual Minority Groups.”


State Goal 7 - Adult Literacy (OPPOSE)
I believe the publicly funded education system should begin with early childhood education and continue through 12th grade.  I do not believe it is the responsibility of the school district to use publicly funded money to support adult literacy when our existing K-12 programs are already lacking sufficient funds.


State Goal 8 - Parental Involvement (SUPPORT)
Regarding Policy Step 8.4, replace all specific race or ethnic group references with “Underrepresented Racial, Gender or related Ethnic/Social/Sexual Minority Groups.”