Good News Bills to Improve Florida Education

Some legislators are truly focused on improving the management and oversight of Florida’s schools. Three cheers to each of them. Here’s a brief description of bills related to charters, capital outlay funding, ethics, early childhood education and community schools.

CHARTERS
SB 1690 Farmer. Requires principals and chief financial officers of charters to have valid third party certification. Given the importance of principals in schools’ success, it is important that principals have knowledge of educational issues, instructional strategies, operations, funding, and management. Top Priority Support

SB 1672 Farmer. This bill gives districts the discretion to share local discretionary capital outlay funding with charters rather than requiring districts to do so. It also requires charter financing companies to have at least an A- rating, and the right of eminent domain does not apply to charters.
These provisions are important. The discretionary capital outlay issue is part of the lawsuit over the local control of districts to operate public schools. Millions of dollars of local funding will now go to privately owned charter schools. Florida’s charter closure rate is the highest in the nation with at least 300 closed. The buildings are retained by the private owners.

Charter bond ratings are at risk because many have low initial payments at high interest and large balloon payments at the end.

HB 6047 Charter Schools Newton, Berman. Repeals certain capital outlay funding for lab schools. Deletes provisions stating charter schools are eligible for capital outlay funding and that Schools of Hope are considered charter schools and may not use capital outlay for purchasing facilities. Top Priority Support

ETHICS
SB 1750 Rodriguez. Ethics. Prohibits public officials from voting on bills that inure financial gain to themselves and related others. The legislature had changed the ethics rules to allow members to vote on bills on which they could benefit if they disclosed their interest and if the bill affected a ‘class’ e.g. a group of people rather than the legislator alone. Top Priority Support

EARLY CHILDHOOD
HB 1297 Brown. The bill strengthens early childhood programs by terminating those with repeated citations. High Priority Support

COMMUNITY SCHOOLS
HB 4331 Community Partnership Schools. This is an appropriations bill to support the University of Central Florida’s community partnership schools for $2,930,570. UCF is the partner with the Children’s Home Society community schools that bring wrap around services, after school programs, and parental education programs to public schools it sponsors in collaboration with local agencies and businesses. There are nine schools statewide that are being expanded to 17 public schools. Additional information to track this bill is located here.

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.

HB 25 Threatens Florida Teachers Union

Are teachers targeted once again? This fight is not about unions or teachers; it is about the political campaign to privatize public schools. Unions are in the way; they have money to combat the well funded and organized movement to dismantle public education.

Representative Plakon (Longwood) and Senator Steube (Sarasota) are sponsoring bills to decertify unions whose membership does not reach 50% of dues paying members. The proposed law would apply to all public sector unions except for first responders i.e. law enforcement and firefighters.

Since Florida is a right-to-work state, employees are not required to join unions. Teachers, moreover, do not have tenure. After their first year, they have annual contracts. The unions bargain for salaries, benefits and working conditions, but they also support professional development and advocacy.

Most likely it is the union advocacy role that irritates some legislators. The union strongly supports public education, and it becomes a target for legislators who promote charter and private school funding. It is all about politics. The privatization movement has strong financial backing from the Bush Foundation and Americans for Prosperity.. Their publicity campaigns against public education are relentless. Teachers unions are the only well funded organized opposition to the take over of public schools. It is no surprise that unions are under attack. This is a ploy, not a problem.

The attack on teachers is having an impact. Teachers are retiring early and new teachers are in short supply. The notion that online technology offers a cheap alternative which can replace teachers is not a dream; it is a nightmare that some Connecticut parents have revolted against. Their district adopted the Summit Learning program built by Facebook. The district had to drop the program when parents complained that children were spending too much screen time in class. This is a real problem we all recognize.

Voters choose the people who set educational policy in the legislature. They need to question candidates for local and state offices about their views on the privatization of schools. If we want quality education for all children, we need a system that serves all children, not one where schools choose the children they wish to
serve. We certainly do not need a system where online learning dominates the classroom. Technology is a tool, not a teacher. Recognize attacks on teachers for what they are.

Feds Slap Florida DOE Wrist

Remember Florida’s exceptions to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)? They were denied by the U.S. Department of Education. Florida must respond to correct omissions to its ESSA plan. Florida exempted:

  1. Certain 8th grade students taking more advanced math courses would be exempt from the 8th grade FSA.
  2. FSA exams would not be available in languages other than English.
  3. School grades calculations by each demographic group; they would include gains by lowest 25th percentile instead.
  4. Baseline data to measure achievement gains and graduation rates by demographic groups are missing.
  5. FSA passing level is indicated by a score of ‘3’, but this is not defined as grade level achievement. Thus, there is no rational for raising or lowering a passing level.
  6. ESSA requires states to report progress on English Language Proficiency. Florida only reports scores for students enrolled in ESOL classes, not for all second language learners.

Several of these omissions were intended to reduce double testing e.g. 8th grade mathematics where students may be required to take the FSA and an End of Course exam. In some cases, such as measuring achievement gains for particular groups, the omissions may have stemmed from attempts to reduce the data processing load. Measuring gains by particular groups requires careful analysis and baseline measures.

These are valid concerns. If the nation is going to measure progress, all states should follow the same rules. What is even more important, however, is whether all of this testing and reporting is necessary and productive every year. Any parent who marks his child’s height on the wall each year sees that some years kids grow more than others.

What happens over time is what matters. Force feeding facts to giant data sets every year doesn’t change growth rates. Some companies may get fat, but the kids starve for the lack of real world learning.

Eva is Scary!

The latest article in the Atlantic depicts the ruthless character of the Success Academy charter founder, Eva Moskowitz and the Chair of the Success Academy board, billionaire Daniel Loeb. It is, however, more than a diatribe. Elizabeth Green, of Chalkbeat, describes the frustration with unions and bureaucratic tangles that led to Moskowitz’s charter chain. Green also outlines the future, perhaps not too distant, of the charter movement. Must give us pause.

Moskowitz decried union bonus rules that encouraged custodians to cut maintenance costs in order to save money for bonuses. The result, she alleges, was unhealthy, non private bathrooms. Teachers, Moskowitz claims, are hamstrung by conflicting regulations from the federal, state and local levels. Charters, free from all of these regulations, are free to concentrate on instruction.

Instruction, as Green documents, is not free from regulation in Moskowitz’s charters. Instead it is scripted and rigidly enforced by the charter chain. It is a sort of mind control for students and teachers. As a result, student and teacher attrition is very high. There is no apology. Success charters, in general, target lower income students. Then they sift out the students and teachers who cannot manage the ‘no excuses’ discipline. By the time students graduate, most have left long before. Those who survive do well on test scores. Publicity from those successes keep parents coming. Winning the lottery is compelling but by winning, most students have a hollow victory.

The future direction of the charter movement is toward charter networks like the 46 charters Moskowitz runs. Parents would choose between one or more charter chains and what remains of traditional public schools. Each chain would have its own philosophy and management style. Parents won’t really choose, they will enter into a lottery and take what they can get. Given that the private sector sets its own rules; parents either like the option or leave. Then what?

The best situation would be a weighted lottery that would attempt to balance racial/ethnic and economic groups within a school. The worst might result in schools that totally isolate all demographic and ability groups.

Green does not just imagine the spread of charter chains and districts. Florida has two of the largest for-profit charter chains in the U.S., Academica and CSUSA. Proposals to amend the Florida constitution to facilitate charter districts have been filed by CRC members Donalds and Martinez.

It will be up to Florida’s voters to decide how scary Florida’s educational system will be.

How many HB 7069 lawsuits are there?

There are three. All cases are yet to be decided.

Single Subject Case. Alachua et al vs. Corcoran. In a 4 to 3 decision, the Florida Supreme Court, citing the time sensitive nature of the case, referred the case back to the Leon County Circuit Court. This is the case that nine districts file that claimed HB 7069 violated the single subject rule. There is no way that HB 7069 pertains to a single subject. It was framed just before the end of the legislative session by rolling as many different bills into one as possible. It’s another one of those mega bills that had no committee hearings and public input. Even though the issue is time sensitive, the Court did not mandate, it suggested, that the case be heard quickly.

Local District Control. Palm Beach school district lawsuit over the constitutionality of the HB 7069 requirement to share low district facility revenue with charters will be heard in circuit court.

Multi Issue Lawsuit. Alachua et al v. Fl. DOE. This complaint, which is yet to be heard, includes 1) sharing local discretionary capital outlay funds with charters 2) Schools of Hope that operate outside of local district control 3) charter systems as their own LEA 4) standard charter contract with no local input 5) restrict district authority to allocate Title I funds and 6) restricts district authority to allocate funds to meet needs of certain schools with low performing students.

How well do Florida students do….Really?

At the Florida House Innovation hearing a couple of weeks ago, Commissioner Stewart said that Florida ranked in the top ten in achievement scores. This is a stretch. Try 11th in fourth grade reading and 33nd in eighth grade reading. It  is worse in mathematics.

The comparisons of Florida on the National Achievement of Education Progress (NAEP) average scores are reported below along with the achievement gains in scores from 2003-2015.

AVERAGE SCORES

  1. Nationally Florida is 11th in grade four reading and 19th in math on NAEP, but it is one of the relatively few states that has mandatory third grade retention based on state assessment scores. Retention of third graders creates a temporary inflation in scores for fourth graders. Fourth grade NAEP scores diminish by eighth grade.
  2. Florida’s ranking in 8th grade reading drops to 33nd. Math is 43rd. nationwide.

Grade 4
Compare: Florida Nation Rank
Math……. 243… 200… 19
Reading.. 227… 221… 11

Grade 8
Math……. 275… 281… 43
Reading.. 263… 264… 33

COMPARISONS WITH LARGE ‘MEGA’ STATES

The Florida DOE does compare Florida’s NAEP scores to the nation and to other large states like California, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio and Texas. Of these so-called mega states, only California, Ohio and Florida have mandatory third grade retention. Note the drop in Florida’s percentage of students scoring at or above proficient in achievement rankings between fourth and eighth grade. The gain in the percentages of students scoring at or above proficient between 2003-15 is included in the report.

  1. All of the mega states except California out perform Florida in 8th grade mathematics. In reading, California and Texas have lower scores than Florida, but Florida also has a below average percentage of students scoring at or above the proficiency level.
  2. Florida’s 8th grade achievement gains in reading were less than all other large states except New York. California and Pennsylvania had large reading gains. The only large state to have large achievement gains in mathematics was Texas. Florida had significantly lower gains than most large states.

Education Week reports Quality Indicators that combine a number of ratings. If the National Assessment score rankings in grade 4 and 8 are used, Florida’s quality indicator is a C-, according to the latest Education Week report.

The bottom line is:

  1. Large states with large minority and low income populations do not perform as well as other states.
  2. Eighth grade scores are better indicators of achievement than are fourth grade scores due to differences in states’ retention policies.
  3. Florida ranks near the bottom in achievement gains. Wish it were different. Florida cannot improve achievement if it does not even recognize the problem it has.

Community Schools: We all can help

What can be done when communities experience more income and racial segregation? It impacts school culture and the sense of equity and access to the wider world. The Florida legislature has mandated charter takeovers. Community schools are the public school answer to those takeovers. They are emerging as an effective strategy to counter the isolation. Florida has twelve. The first, Evans High School sponsored by the Children’s Home Society, is a marvel. Read about how Evans went from an ‘F’ rated school to a ‘B’ rated school and grew enrollment from 1600 students to over 2400. Its graduation rate went up from 50% to 80%.

What exactly is a community school? There is a report out that describes four essential qualities. We need to track these schools. We can also help these schools. Here in Alachua County we are meeting with our community school leaders to find ways to support their after school programs. You might find a way to help one of your schools.

Community schools have strong connections between educators and local resources, supports and people. Meaningful learning and well-rounded development is everyone’s top priority. This learning strategy is not about regurgitating facts. It is about tackling real world complex problems using collaboration to create deeper learning. Too aspirational you might say? Not so! Low expectations send a message to children. Helping children tackle real-world problems engages them.

Here’s what to look for:

  1. Student support services are integrated into the school and coordinated by a school staff member.
  2. After school, weekend and summer programs provide additional academic instruction and enrichment activities.
  3. Schools become a neighborhood hub where parents’ educational or other civic needs can be met e.g. specialty classes.
  4. Collaborative leadership and practice through teacher/leadership teams, teacher learning communities, and a community school coordinator.

Here’s where to look for other community schools in Florida.

Survival of the Fittest in New York City?

Who succeeds at New York’s Success Academy charter schools? The New Yorker provides some clues. The first high school graduating class at New York City’s Success Academies has made it through years of strict discipline and mind control. There is even a correct placement for your pencil when it sits on your desk. Suspension is ‘one tool in the toolkit’ and is used often, not to punish but to increase awareness of expectations. Only seventeen students made it to graduation, but their accomplishments are notable. Even the teachers tend not to last; an average of twenty-five percent leave every year.

The environment for learning attracts parents. Success charters receive large donations from the business community. There are well equipped classrooms and field trips. Instruction is both very directed toward skill mastery and somewhat more progressive. Teachers, however, do not develop their own lesson plans. They teach what the ‘network’ demands. Teachers and students alike operate within tightly controlled boundaries and frequent assessment, according to the authors.

The recipe for Success Academy is high expectations, strict and intense behavioral control, and formulaic teaching strategies. Test scores for those who last are excellent. Most do not last, and after second grade, new students are not added. By high school, enrollments are small.

College enrollment for graduates is high, but then something happens. Students do not complete college.

John Dewey’s educational philosophy gives a hint to what could be happening at Success Academy schools i.e. “The society for which a child is being prepared…should be replicated in a simplified form within the structure and culture of the school itself’. In other words, if a school prepares students in an authoritarian manner, then the students will expect to function in an authoritarian world as adults. They may well have problems, as students at a Success Academy high school experienced, when they were given the opportunity to structure their own time and academic activities. They simply did not know how.

We all have to ask ourselves what is important about education. Is it measured by test scores or is there something more fundamental? These are not simply philosophical questions. There is a constitutional amendment proposed in Florida to define the purpose of education the development of the intellect and preparation for the workforce. What’s missing in this definition?