Resegregation of Florida Schools: Problem or Solution?

We came to Florida in 1966. Florida was the ‘New South’ thanks to Governor LeRoy Collins. It was to be a model of positive change, and for many years, it was. Florida led the nation in desegregation. Then in the 90’s, a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions repealed desegregation mandates. The ‘Separate but Equal’ era reasserted itself. Districts–communities–ended bussing and suburban sprawl was the norm. Large, mostly urban pockets of very low performing schools developed due to racially and economically segregated housing patterns.

In a just released study of Florida public education, the bottom line for children is that with whom they attend school matters. The report states: “White, middle-class student enrollment is especially important since these students have access to more challenging courses, peer groups and support systems in strong schools. These educational advantages benefit disadvantaged students in ways that enrollment in predominately minority schools do not.”

Reaching the goal of racially and economically diverse schools is a challenge. Florida’s population has become more diverse and less affluent. The percentage of white/Asian students fell from 60% to 43%. While the percentage of black students in public schools remains about 20%, the percentage of Hispanics doubled to 31%. Are the public schools more diverse? Well yes, on average. We have more multi racial schools– 1/5 in 1994 to 1/3 in 2014. The diversity, however, is not uniformly spread among schools. The percentage of schools that are 90-100% minority has doubled from 10% in 1994 to 20% in 2014.

While exposure to other races and ethnicities has increased over time, the typical student in each group tends to go to schools where the majority of students are like themselves. This is especially true for white students. They attend schools with about one-third minority enrollment, whereas black and Hispanic students are typically in schools where they represent two-thirds of the school’s enrollment. Given the economic differences among racial/ethnic groups on average and the correlation between income and achievement, it is predictable that concentrations of low performing schools are found in low-income areas.

Under the school choice policies initiated by Governor Jeb Bush in the 2000s, parents are offered choices to escape the problems associated with concentrated poverty. Resegregation, as a result, increased. One in four black students attends an intensely segregated charter school. Hispanic students in charters are even more likely to attend a charter school with a predominately Hispanic student body. In Florida, Hispanic students are the largest group attending charter schools. Given that charter schools are counted as public schools, the conclusion that public schools are becoming more segregated is no surprise.

The obvious problem is what can be done that encourages a better cross section of students who can learn from one another. In Governor Collins’ era, the State supported research to design desegregation plans. Florida does have a controlled enrollment option for districts. Lee and St. Lucie counties have implemented this approach to school assignment in order to better integrate its schools. Okaloosa County has voted to go in this direction. Nevertheless, the report concludes that Florida has come a long way since the era of LeRoy Collins, but the integration of public schools is not one of them.

Bash Schools or Build Democracy

The October Atlantic reports on the war on public schools. We know this war. The strategy is changing, and this is a good thing. The reform mantra that school achievement has declined, teachers are inadequate, unions protect mediocrity and school choice (read privatization) solves all problems has become hackneyed, if not outright false. The Atlantic article raises a much different and more fundamental concern. The attack on public schools reflects the emphasis on individual rights as opposed to the collective good. This is an age-old theme in America. It waxes and wanes, but the stakes are high.

The author cites the political theorist Benjamin Barber’s warning: “America as a commercial society of individual consumers may survive the destruction of public schooling. America as a democratic republic cannot.” Why?

Our schools integrate diverse groups from widely ranging backgrounds into our civil society. They learn to be ‘American’. The public schools give all of our people a stake in the future of our democracy. School choice, however, is further segregating our society and creates more enclaves. The impact on our communities is being felt. We no longer teach civics, and fewer young people participate in voting.

In some countries, the population disengages in their political system. When this occurs, the whole process of negotiation among citizens to resolve problems disintegrates. A good analysis is offered by Harry Boyte, Co-Director of the Center for Democracy. He says “Politics is how diverse groups of people build a future together”. This is the message that will determine our future. We have a choice. We can build or divide our schools and our communities.

Should We Close Schools?

The latest push to improve test scores is to close low performing schools. This CREDO study from Stanford University was designed to see what happened to the students. They looked at traditional public schools (TPS) and charters whose students scored at or below the 20th percentile on state tests. Some schools in both sectors were closed and others not. Why? What happened to the children?

Some key findings include:

  1. Charters that closed in Florida had significantly lower performing students than students in closed public schools. Why would this be? One possible explanation is that closure corresponded not only to low performance but also to declining enrollment. Parents of charters students tended to leave failing charters before the school actually shut down. As enrollment dropped, charters could not afford to stay open.

  2. Florida closed 24 TPS over 7 years and 34 charters. While the number of closed charters is higher, 85% of the students affected were in TPS. In Florida, 4,337 students in charters were affected vs. 5,410 TPS. Closure disproportionately impacted schools with high rates of minority students over other low performing schools.

  3. Most, 82% of TPS students, stayed in another TPS after closure while only 40% of charter students stayed in charters. In Florida, there were no differences between achievement gains for closed low performing charter students over time and similar students in charters that were not closed. Over time, children from closed charters did much less well than similar children from closed TPS.

  4. Students from closed schools do better if they are transferred to schools with higher performing students. But, there are too many low performing students able to enroll in higher performing schools. Less than half of the students from closed schools landed in a better performing school.

What is the take away from the data? Closing a school hurts kids unless they enroll in a school that has higher performing students. This becomes a socio-economic integration issue. It is a school culture issue. It is an opportunity issue. Suppose there are an insufficient number of schools with higher performing students to place these children? CREDO suggests innovative new schools are needed. If the old charter did not work, what should this new innovative school be? The answer is in the data. Children learn from children who are learning!

Flawed School Bill: What is wrong?

Here’s a good synopsis of the legal flaws in HB 7069. These constitutional issues need to be at our fingertips:

The bill:

  1. Strips the authority of local school boards to review charter school applications and enforce minimum quality standards e.g. earn a school grade of at least a ‘C’ and participate in the Florida Standards Assessment program.

  2. Violates the constitutional authority of school boards to levy property taxes to support schools by requiring revenue to be shared with privately owned charter schools.

  3. Allows some charters to hire uncertified teachers.

The courts may have to decide whether or not to throw out these provisions. Citizens need to decide whether politicians should have made these decisions in the first place. There is more at stake than money, which is a huge issue for the maintenance of public school buildings. The control of local schools by a few politicians who manipulated the legislative process by holding meetings in secret and launching legislation at the last minute is a practice that robs everyone of the right to know what is happening.

What Do Parents Really Want?

A new PDK poll is out saying people want more than straight academics in their schools. More parents oppose than support vouchers, value diversity in their schools, don’t believe tests measure what is most important, believe support services for children belong in schools, and, if they are parents, like their schools.

It could be there is a media problem with how schools and teachers are described that accounts for less positive ratings for schools by people who aren’t closely associated with them. There is some work being done on this topic by Dr. Mary Dalton. From Heroes to Hacks: The Disturbing Rise of Bad Teachers on Television. Dr. Dalton is speaking at the University of Florida Graham Center on September 20th at 6p.m. in Pugh Hall.

We are spreading some more good news here in Gainesville. The film: Passion to Teach will be shown at two schools in Gainesville and the events are open to the public. The film maker will be here from Massachusetts to lead a discussion about how communities are using the power of this film to enlighten the public about what is possible for schools to be even in this test driven culture.

If you want to see what else we are doing, go to our September: Public Schools Awareness Month website. I learned today that another Florida county will have a similar awareness month in November.

School has started, but not this charter! Parents Ask: Now what?

The Hillsborough School District is bending over backwards to help the new Avant Garde Academy charter school open. It has gotten to the point that parents are wondering just when, if ever, their children can enroll.

There is also the question of why this charter schools should open. There is room in nearby public schools. Parents feel helpless; in these charter operations, they often are.

Read the letter some parents have written. They tell the story all parents need to hear. There is no rhyme nor reason to the expansion of charters and everyone gets hurt when there is no planning and no transparency. It does not have to be this way.

HB 7069 Lawsuit Growing

The lawsuit against HB 7069 has a law firm to represent the 11 school districts that have now joined the complaint about the Florida legislature’s attack on local public school board authority. The Florida Constitution states that local elected school boards govern our schools. The legislature believes it does. More districts are considering the suit. Thus far, only Sarasota has decided not to participate.

Bay
Broward
Hamilton
Lee
Martin
Miami-Dade
Orange
Palm Beach
Polk
St Lucie
Volusia

Sarasota voted not to join

CSUSA Hits the News Again

There are a few facts we should know automatically. Here are some about Hillsborough:

  1. Charters compete with good public schools; they do little to help communities. There are 101 charter schools in Hillsborough. Only 35 charters serve low income area students and only a third of those achieve an A or B on school grades.

  2. Charter schools are no panacea for poverty. CSUSA for example, has 19 charters in the area. Those that serve high income schools do well just as those district-run schools do. Charters that draw predominately from low income families struggle.

  3. Charter schools have high teacher turnover. The WFTS Tampa Bay reports on Channelside, a CSUSA charter that is losing ground. Its school grade is dropping. Its students are not doing as well as they once did. The reason? A student describes the loss of her teacher for three months. They watched movies with an uncertified substitute teacher.

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