League of Women Voters Launches Education Blog

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Games CRC Plays: It is dark behind doors, not sunny.

The CRC is making its own rules. According to CRC member Erika Donalds, the CRC operates like the legislature; it does not follow the Sunshine law. If they want to speak together secretly, they do so. Attorney General Pam Bondi, who sits on the CRC, stated that she personally does not engage in one-on-one talks with other commissioners.

Politico has taken an interest in the behind the scenes discussions about Erika Donalds proposals to amend the Florida constitution. Procedural issues continue plague the operation of the CRC which can invalidate the CRC proposals. Her proposals would end school board salaries, impose term limits, require appointed superintendents, and promote funding for private schools, and strip charter school authorization authority from local school boards.

Donalds is the Collier County School Board member who helped organize her own school board association, separate from the Florida School Boards Association. The membership of this alternative group has ties to a charter school chain operated by a private religious college in Michigan. She and her husband, Representative Byron Donalds, were founding board members of Mason Classical Academy charter in Collier County. Donalds has filed for a second charter. Shawn Frost, who is part of this group, has announced he will not seek reelection to the Indian River school board. It seems he expects to be appointed to the Florida State Board of Education.

Skullduggery Afoot With Charter Authorization

The original proposal, P.71, to amend the Florida constitution (by Erika Donalds) was to provide alternative ways to authorize charter schools in addition to local school boards. Now, Donalds has deleted the wording in her proposal P 71 and inserted the following:

The school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district…except for those authorized by the state charter school authorizing board, municipalities, charter counties, Florida college system and public universities as provided by law.

What state charter school authorizing board you ask? There is no such thing now. Charter counties?? They do not exist either, but the CRC proposal P. 93 by Martinez would create them.

All of this requires voters to amend article IX of the Florida constitution in November 2018. Our constitution specifies that Florida has a ‘unified system of free public schools’. Donalds, Levesque and Martinez would change that.

It is interesting that Patricia Levesque filed an amendment to P. 71 an hour after Donalds filed one. Levesque’s wording was more subtle. She eliminated the words ‘charter school’ and inserted ‘public schools’ in line 29 of the original proposal to amend the constitution. Basically, Levesque wants nothing to prohibit alternative public school authorization. Since charters are public schools, perhaps Levesque believes that voters will not notice that the amendment would strip local districts’ authority to authorize charter schools. After all, in theory and in law, charters are public schools. They are funded by the public and just happen to be owned and operated by private entities.

Will Miami’s New KIPP Charter Be Different??

KIPP in Jacksonville has not been a success story to brag about. KIPP Jacksonville charters expanded, but the school grades fluctuate up and down. The KIPP national spokesman acknowledged problems there.

Superintendent Carvalho says the Miami KIPP will operate differently. For one thing, it will co locate within a district-run school, Poinciana Park elementary. It will pay $1 in rent. Therefore, KIPP will receive the same funding as traditional schools without the same facility costs. Improvements in the KIPP side of the school are supposed to benefit all students, but nothing in the lease agreement guarantees it. It’s a ‘verbal agreement’. Board members fear it will be a “stark symbol of inequity“.

Poinciana was an ‘F’ school in 2016. Now it is an ‘A’ school even though only about 25% of the students scored at the proficient level on the English FSA exam. So what is to be gained by adding KIPP to the school? In a way, KIPP will operate as a magnet school, but with its own management and instructional methods, within Poinciana. Parents can apply to have children attend.

Absent in the discussion are the consequences of the well documented ‘no nonsense’ strict behavioral and instructional strategies of KIPP schools. For example, studies of KIPP policies indicate that grade 5 attrition is higher than at feeder district schools even though it drops later on. Moreover, KIPP tends not to replace students who leave. When new students are admitted, they have higher achievement scores than those initially admitted.

The net effect is that KIPP schools have fewer free and reduced lunch students, fewer students with exceptionalities, and somewhat higher achievement scores simply because of the selection and attrition policies. Moreover, the attrition rate for KIPP fifth grade students is nearly twice than in district feeder schools, according to a Mathematica study.

The children who remain in KIPP are with others whose parents want them there and will tolerate the highly structured, test driven curriculum. The Atlanta school district reports that KIPP students are in school from 7:30 to 5pm weekdays and select Saturdays. They also have two weeks of instruction in the summer. They tend more often than similar students to start college, but they have trouble completing college.

What is the KIPP difference? Push kids hard, give them more time in schools, and test scores go up. So, will this new school within a school be like a magnet school for struggling children? Kids will be separated into those whose parents aspire for their children to go on to college and those who do not.

The State cannot or will not support additional instructional time for all students. The result is that these ‘no nonsense’ schools pay the cost of providing more instructional time for students by continuously hiring inexperienced teachers. They compensate by reducing teachers to be drill sergeants; it is a business strategy.

Additional resources come out of teacher salaries and benefits. Teachers leave at twice the rate as district schools, but the rigid KIPP instructional method trains new teachers over and over again.

Even if this military style disciplined approach to learning and teaching produces higher test scores for students who survive it, does it produce the creative, problem solving, self regulated people our society requires? Each of us must ask if this is the learning experience we want for our own children, or is it just something to do for ‘other kids’? There are better ideas out there, but are we willing to pay for them?

What are the societal costs when children face double segregation by race and income in their neighborhoods and then face additonal discrimination in their schools? It must be a world that says over and over No Access.

Can’t Bully Kids into Learning

These Achievement First ‘no excuses’ charters are learning; they found out that they are not teaching kids how to learn. Achievement First charters discovered that their students, who learned how to pass state tests or left the school, could not succeed in college. Students have to be able to learn on their own, just as they are expected to do in college and as adults.

Achievement First runs 34 charters enrolling 15,000 students. Their highly structured discipline approach to behavior and learning is not working. The students are not engaged in school. In 2016, students at one school tried to tell them. They staged a walk out demanding fairer discipline and a more diverse staff. In 2015, parents filed a lawsuit claiming the Achievement First used inappropriate discipline and failed to provide needed special education services to children.

After seeing their alumni struggle, Achievement First is trying to make students more independent. They are running a couple of pilot tests in middle schools. Three times a year the students have an online expedition to explore their own interests for two weeks for three hours a day. Better than nothing. They are using something called the Greenfield model.

These no excuses charters can train students to pass tests, but students are not robots. The real key to success is to engage students through group based projects. These don’t have to be in every subject every day. They do, however have to be real-world problems that students can tackle together. This is how learning becomes meaningful.

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