THE BLOG

Florida Education and the "Full Fathom Five"

11/09/2012 06:52 pm ET | Updated Jan 09, 2013

The Tuesday prior to Sandy's arrival in New York City, we sat in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) as still as Arthur Young's green helicopter that hung to our right and proudly preludes some of the greatest artistic works of this century. Outside, tourists pressed their faces against the glass wondering why the museum was closed. Meanwhile, flanked by the other three finalists, we sat in painful anticipation pondering what it would mean to finally win.

Just then, Eli Broad spoke of how the obligation to educate our children was one of the few topics our entire nation agreed on, I thought about the Jackson Pollock upstairs: "Full Fathom Five." A wonderful example of his drip technique, it has embedded in the canvas cigarette butts, nails, thumbtacks, buttons, coins and a key. But what I love is that every single part of the canvas speaks, there is no area that is left blank to provide contrast to another, no inside or outside, no beginning or end. Rather, the more the eye tries to dissect it and find a subject or source, the more it is ensnared by the depth, by the beauty of the line rather than what it defines.

The same is true of the data that determines the winner of the Broad -- a prize for urban education that considers the achievements of the 75 largest urban districts in the United States. The panel looks at the data of each district, free and reduced lunch, English learners, ethnic makeup, college readiness, AP scores, student choice programs, graduation rates, teacher/student ratios. The data -- like Pollock's varied paints, objects and lines -- create a sense of the space in which each district moves.

As a Floridian, accustomed to having our students and teachers judged on one exam, a school grade or most recently race, the idea of a holistic look at our over 349,600 students and 50,000 employees is a prize in itself. I wished that just like a postcard of "Full Fathom Five," I could take back to Florida the concept that education is no longer defined by one measure, that pockets of success aren't sufficient, that as a state, our desire for excellence can't end with our neighborhood, that rather than defunding and demonizing public education we must make it a priority.

Just then, Arne Duncan asked for the envelope, and announced that Miami-Dade County Public Schools was this year's winner, the highest performing urban district, a national example of hope and inspiration. As we posed for pictures, in the education world's equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize, I wondered what we could achieve if our students had state of the art facilities, access to technology, and a consistent and reliable accountability system. What we could achieve if the educational tempest that is the state of Florida stood still and let us do our work; if in the sea of educational change our state leaders recognized what the nation recognized that day -- that M-DCPS's innovative model is the future, not the enemy.

This past Tuesday, the residents of Miami-Dade took a bold and necessary step by approving the bonds needed to bring our schools into the 21st century. As a parent and a school board member, I am humbled by the fact that our residents did what Tallahassee has failed to do, make public education a priority. Now, Miami-Dade County Public Schools will have the tools to provide excellence in education to every child in every neighborhood. And while the state continues to drown other school districts -- because of our residents, students, teachers and administrators -- Miami-Dade County Public Schools will continue to thrive and chart the course in this sea of educational change.