Public Education, Our Children, and the American Dream

Here’s a letter from the Florida League about our children’s future under HB 7069. Take the time to feel the impact. It has been submitted to the Miami Herald.

HB 7069, which passed the Florida Legislature has been described as “harsh, severe, and promises to undermine not only the economic viability of our school system, but the long-term stability of public education in our community and across the state,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

While the bill has some good aspects, especially recess for K-5 students, there are many parts which negatively impact our public schools, and children and families in our Florida communities.

We all agree that our children deserve a public funded (no cost) education so they can achieve their full potential. That is what distinguishes our country from countries around the world. This is a core American value; the foundation of the American Dream.  HB7069 does exactly the opposite. It was crafted in the middle of night, behind closed doors, with little public input, or access to the language of the bill; it was presented as take-it-or-leave-it.

The League of Women Voters of Florida believe that HB7069 needs serious revisions: public schools must have access to tax dollars to maintain and construct our schools; fiscal and academic accountability should be the same for all schools receiving public funds; state standardized testing should continue to be reduced; funds for parental involvement activities should be restored; the role of our communities and parents in local schools be reinforced and not diminished or eliminated; that free play recess be guaranteed to all K-5 students in all schools, public and charter; that school choice by parents be strengthened by providing teacher and student attrition data to school performance information for all schools (public and charters equally); that because charters receive our tax dollars, parents should have access to charter management company profits and guidelines for lease and management fees; and that school authority reside with locally-elected school boards who are accountable to local communities, to us, the taxpayers and voters.

We believe that with access to a public education, our children, especially of working families, or from poor homes, or with disabilities, or with other challenges, can become the very best they can be and grow up to contribute to our communities, as future working adults, paying taxes, and making our communities across Florida better places to live.  Any child can enroll in our schools and get a public education, no matter our child’s economic status, or race, or religion, or any other category. When my family arrived from Russia, or my friends came from Cuba or Haiti, or from name the country, our families’ children were welcomed by the neighborhood public school. That is America and Florida and Miami.

With HB7069, all that we believe is at risk. While charter schools provide parents a choice, let’s remember that the source of charter schools’ funding is our local tax dollars. The very first line of your County 2017-18 Proposed Tax Bill is for school taxes; the taxes that support our core value, a public education.

When it comes to allocating our hard earned tax dollars to public schools, we expect that this money will be spent responsibly to meet the needs of our children.  Indeed, that is at the heart of any elected official’s responsibility – to make sound spending decisions regarding our public dollars, with accountability and transparency.

This is what we must strive for in our school system for Miami and across Florida, for all our children and the very future of our communities.  “The word that comes to mind is courage,” said Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, School Board Member, “We’ve got to have the courage to do what is right.”

Pamela S. Goodman, President
League of Women Voters Florida

HB 7069: Collateral Damage Hits Home

Imagine finding out that the State of Florida fired you, but you work for a local school. Imagine finding out you were fired because your students did not do well on the state assessments when 23 of your 39 students had left your school. Imagine being the Teacher of the Year when that happened. This is HB 7069 in action.

Imagine finding out you had to prove the State was wrong. Read this teacher’s story. She is not alone. It happened to teachers across the state.

NAACP Report: A Must Read

The NAACP called for a moratorium on charter school expansion. The newly published report gives the reasons why. Charters, however well an individual school may operate, have system failures that threaten our entire public school system.

Robert Runcie, Superintendent of Broward County says that they have closed 30 charters since he has been there. Hillsborough’s experience with alternative charters was described by Albert Fields, NAACP representative, as …”the warehouse on the way to prison.’

Issues of Access and Retention: Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit against New Orleans charters
Concerns about Quality: 2500 charters have closed since 2001. Forty percent closure rate.
Issues Accountability and Transparency: Points include: Extreme variations in salaries and expenditures in charters, lack of parent access to management; disruption of charter closures
Transportation Challenges. In Detroit, “We have created school deserts.” As charters increase, neighborhood schools close. Charters locate in more desirable areas; thus many parents are faced with major transportation problems to get their children to school.
For Profit Charters. “For-profit operators have no business in education…(Our kids) are not assets and liabilities and should not be treated as such.”

Whatever individual charters accomplish, the system failures diminish. The NAACP calls for more equitable funding and investment in the education of students in low performing schools. Districts should be the sole authorizers, and they should be empowered to reject applications that do not meet standards, and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight. For-profit charters should be prohibited, including those that send money from non-profit charters to for-profit management companies. Allowing for-profit companies to operate charter schools is an inherent conflict of interest.

http://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Task_ForceReport_final2.pdf

Mom Guilt: Are charters a good choice?

A quote from the Tampa Bay Times article on the movement toward charters: “You don’t want to be the mom who made the wrong decision”. What is behind this concern:

  1. Children are leaving Lutz elementary, a well thought of district school, because they want to be first in line for a charter middle school.

  2. Why a charter middle school? Middle schools draw from a larger areas and parents are concerned that discipline problems increase during those years. The big take away is that some parents worry that district schools are less ‘safe’. Charters can dismiss students which parents can use as a warning to their own children.

Other parents and educators see the impact of choice on their communities. As one parent said, “I know we are not going to be a great city without great public schools.”

The choice system extends divides by class, race, opportunity and ideology. The public district choice options are to offer magnet programs and magnet schools. The advantage is that there is district planning and oversight which reduces fraud, abuse, and other mismanagement problems. It makes district planning more cost effective. It does not, in its current form, solve the equity problems for less affluent families. It’s only a step in the direction of equal access to high quality education.

I just read a column in the New York Times where David Leonhardt came down on the side of charter schools based in part on his reading about the positive impact in Florida for students who graduate from charter schools. I posted three summaries of studies re Florida charters:

  1. Charter High School Long Term Effects. Interesting that in Florida, the data from the study were from charter students entering high school back in 2002.  Those charter school 8th graders who went on to a charter high school were more affluent, less likely to be black, more likely to be Hispanic and not have an ESE designation (p.16).  Soooo, the conclusion is that charter school students who graduate from a charter high school do better on most out come measures e.g. college attendance, income etc. than 8th graders from charters who did not graduate from a charter high school.   To put it another way, in South Florida which has a high proportion of Hispanic students in charter schools, these students do better in the long run than lower income black students who return to district high schools.  Should this surprise anyone?

I also posted these additional studies:

  1. CREDO Urban Study shows in 5/7 Florida cities, charters did less well than comparable public district schools. Charters performed better in only one city.

  2. National Alliance of Public Charter Schools reports that, “despite consistent growth by charter schools in Florida, the schools have lagged on quality, diversity and innovation.” 2016.

Academic achievement aside, many decisions are about feelings. What do we do about the uncertainties we all face? I remember the famous saying from President Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. At the time, there were riots, food lines, and the looming prospect of war. Plenty to worry about. We made it then; we will make it through this time.

Washington Post Blasts Florida’s Chaotic Educational System

Valerie Strauss tells it like it is. She lists the educational mess caused by Florida’s reform policies culminating in the passage of HB 7069:

  • loss of district facility funds to charter schools
  • ‘Schools of Hope’ that are required to fire teachers and administrators
  • State seizure of local school board authority
  • High charter closure rates and incidences of scandal
  • Private school tuition from tax credits for corporations with no consequences for lack of student achievement

The article by Valerie Strauss goes on to cover testing and accountability policies, teacher bonus programs, and perhaps even more strange, the request to the federal government to stop reporting achievement gaps.

Here’s the link to the article in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/22/floridas-education-system-the-one-betsy-devos-cites-as-a-model-is-in-chaos/?utm_term=.0cb978c6651f

Governor Scott Won’t Like This Report

Florida ranks 12th overall in a CNBC report on America’s Top States for Business. Twelfth doesn’t sound too bad. Yet, we are second in our economy and fourth in our access to capital. So where do we fall short? You guessed it–EDUCATION. We are 40th. Granted I am skeptical of most rankings. I think of them as guesstimates. Yet, the indicators used in the rankings have a familiar ring:

  1. Number and funding level for higher education.
  2. K12 test scores, class size, spending, technology infrastructure and life long learning programs.

Well, I suppose it’s good we aren’t the worst. Nevada has that spot.

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/11/americas-top-states-for-business-2017-overall-ranking.html

“Schools of Hope” candidates announced

Who are candidates for Schools of Hope–93 schools that have received school grades below a ‘C’ for the past three years. What are the options: close the school, turn it into a privately operated charter or turn it into a district managed charter with all new teachers and administrators.

So where is the ‘Hope’? The legislature allocated funding for 25 of the 93 schools to help them turn around their low academic achievement. The money is to be used for after school programs, and community partnerships based on criteria that the Florida DOE has yet to identify. Unfortunately, the applications for the ‘Hope’ grants are due August 15. At stake is about $2,000 per student in additional funding.

So what happens to the other low performing schools? One in Alachua County just had its turn around plan denied. It’s principal has been dismissed. Does it now close? It’s in a rural area and has low enrollment. Part of its enrollment comes from another rural town whose school was closed a year ago. The district just gave that town the old school building. Will both rural cities try for charters to keep a local school? Think about the low finances and skimpy academic offerings these charters will have. Think about the impact of shifting these children to the closest nearby public school. We may end up with parents, who are able, shifting children all over town trying to get the ‘best’ for their children and to ‘get away’ from the influx of newly displaced children.

The consequences may be a downward spiral as families leave. What happens when there is nowhere else to go? Gainesville now has several under enrolled schools in one section of town. Who serves the families that are ‘left behind’?

If the answer is ‘charters’, what do charters do that districts can’t? Fire teachers easily. But, whom do charters hire–newly minted, unexperienced teachers who tend to leave the profession at an alarming rate.

What else can be done? Read the blog post on the Palm Beach problem. No easy answers, but we can ask better questions than the current legislature is asking.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article162592568.html

Why schools close: Palm Beach Example

The School Board in Palm Beach will close Odyssey Middle School. It is a ‘B’ school, but the ‘word is out’ it is not a good school. The enrollment has dropped in half. The building will become a charter, and the district will build a new school in a more popular area of the district.

Some blame the district. The school is in a mixed income area. Some sections are high poverty; others are middle class. The district did not do enough to satisfy requests for more advanced courses, and parents left. It would be good to know more about that side of the story.

The school opened in 2001 with a high percentage of children from low-income families. It took some time to get the discipline problems and school culture turned around, but it did. Nevertheless, it was not enough. So, Palm Beach will close a school, give the facility to a charter, and build a new school somewhere else? This is an expensive solution to a social problem. How could it have been done differently?

Hopefully, parents and communities will begin to be aware of the social and economic costs of a lack of attention to equity issues and the need for a community approach to solving them. What does this mean? It means thoughtful planning for zoning areas and program offering. It means tackling problems in areas rather than ignoring them and allowing them to get worse. It means understanding that charters don’t solve these problems. People do.

I remember when Gainesville schools were integrated. Schools located in between black and white areas tended to be closed. Some said the district did not want to have these schools integrated. Only one elementary school, located in a black neighborhood, had a zone to include students in a white area. Those white families joined together to support that school. White families are still there because the district turned the school into a magnet. Gainesville still has problems with concentrated poverty in some areas. There are glimmers of hope that the community is willing to work together to solve them.

How do you balance schools and maintain high quality programs to which all children have access? How do these more balanced schools create a school culture that is respectful, safe, and welcoming? If students are segregated by race and income, equity is lost. No easy answers to these issues, but if we don’t ask the questions, we will just see a bad situation become worse. I worry that school choice is like the ostrich who puts its head in the sand.

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/education/palm-beach/fl-schools-odyssey-middle-closing-20170718-story.html

Paramount Charter In Miami Closed: Obscene

How do you get the message out to parents about the lack of charter school regulation? Some charters are run well. Others have obscenities on the walls that no one washes off. When the district froze funding as an investigation by the DOE was launched at Paramount Charter, the principal took the money. The district can only do so much. Charters are privately owned and managed. It could be different. Districts could grant charter contracts and allow flexibility. They would oversee the management if the state legislature would allow it.

Read the story here:

https://www.local10.com/news/local-10-investigates/first-look-inside-nightmare-charter-school

Listen to the Voice from Our Schools

We went to visit some of our ‘low performing’ schools in Gainesville that aren’t low performing this year. We asked: What made the difference? We wrote up what our principals told us. The Gainesville Sun published our article today. The principals know what is needed. We don’t need the State to takeover our schools; we need the State to support our schools! We ask everyone to listen!

Read the article here: http://www.gainesville.com/opinion/20170707/carole-fernandez-listen-to-voices-from-our-schools