Constructive Committee Discussion

The House Committee on PK12 Quality held a thoughtful meeting.

State Rep. Matt Willhite asked “Could we do without school grading?”  “When we have school grades with continuous failing grades, are we benefiting the child telling them they are in a failing school?

Sen. Jake Rayburn R. Lithia, stated that whether you give an F or not, you have to figure out what to do with low performing schools.

Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R. The Villages asked ‘If there is any benefit (from testing)?  He said that the most frequent complaint he heard was about the stress and time taken away from other academic efforts at the schools.

The State School Superintendents requested a return to paper and pencil testing which take much less time to administer than testing in limited space computer labs.  Removing test scores from teacher evaluations would allow districts to develop their own assessment strategies.

Of course we need to test to see how children are learning.  It is a matter of how much testing is needed and how scores are used.  Hitting teachers, students, and schools over the head with school grades just makes everyone frustrated and destroys neighborhoods.

Missing from the discussion was the growing evidence that over the last 15 years of school choice, many neighborhoods have gone into a downward spiral, much like in Gainesville where four low income area schools used to have grades with A, B, and Cs.  Now one school is closed and the three remaining post Ds and Fs.  Teachers and students leave.  Socio economic data show that charters in the area do not take or keep the difficult problems.  It is hard to swallow but giving parents choice has created more problems than it has solved. The charters here fail more often than the public schools.

The bottom line is that folks want to make things better, but the stronger the focus is on schools rather than kids, the bigger the problem is.  Bad problems get worse.  Everyone blames everyone else.  Grading schools and teachers highlight problems but do not fix them.

Making schools more equal could help depending upon how it was done.  Now, the three struggling schools receive $1.5 million in federal funding to support extra time and wrap around services.  The money helps but does not eliminate the failing stigma. It does nothing for similar students who are dispersed in schools across the district.   Once we had an extra hour and summer school, funded by the State, to help children who start school behind and stay behind.  Once we had high quality early Head Start.  Once we had teachers who loved their schools.  Gone, all gone.  But, at least people are talking.

League Forum on Schools of the Future


The League of Women Voters invites you to join us in Gainesville on March 4th. We are celebrating the Schools of the Future with Peggy Brookins, CEO of the National Professional Teachers Certification organization.  She is on the President’s Commission on Education.  Peggy was a teacher and innovator in Florida for many years before joining the National Board.

Following her presentation will be a panel of educators who will respond to audience questions.  Panelists include the Deputy Superintendent, Teacher of the Year, elementary and secondary curriculum specialists and the head of the Alachua County Council of PTAs.

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The Suspension Gap

“Fixing” struggling schools with a load of good intentions only goes so far.  Strong leaders have to figure out ways to get children to show up for school and find time, teachers, and learning strategies to help them.  School success is measured by student learning gains.  Achievement gaps between white and black, rich and poor students must be narrowed.  This is only one of the gaps leaders must close.

 

 

 

 

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School Turnaround: Caught Between the Crosshairs

In a news report on President Obama’s legacy, one commentator stated that is focus on eliminating failing schools would survive.  These are the ‘turn around’ schools where most students do not meet state proficiency levels.  Some say that the goal to have all students be proficient is like assuming all students must be ‘above average’.  Proficiency standards, however, are set at levels most but not all students are expected to reach.  The expectations are an ever increasing target.  As achievement goes up, standards go up.

It is a trap, however, to excuse low performance because students have not been expected or even required to do better.  Is there an escape hatch?

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A Serious Look at Testing or at School Culture?

Rep. David Simmons, the chair of the Florida Senate Appropriations sub committee on Education wants a serious look at way to reduce over testing.  What is over testing?  Is it all the prep testing that goes on prior to the state tests?  On the other hand, is it too many redundant state or national tests e.g. requiring students to sit the FSA and the SAT if they are going to college?  Or, is it requiring students to take a state test like the FSA every year?  There is another way to look at over testing.  Perhaps it is a way to avoid looking for solutions.

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Time is Money or Maybe Not!

wrist-watch-941249_640Suppose you are a really good teacher and can prove it.  You notice that a neighboring district has a pay for performance plan where high quality teachers with less experience earn more money than average teachers with more experience.  Would you change districts?  In today‘s Gainesville Sun, a local economist, Dave Denslow, summarized a study by Barbara Biasi, a Stanford graduate student, who compared school districts in Wisconsin that used a ‘pay for performance plan‘ with districts that did not.   The result?

 

 

 

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Suspension Happy Charter Schools

childrenCharter schools represent 7% of New York City’s school population  but 42% of all student suspensions.  Of the top 50 schools with high suspension rates, 48 were charters.  These schools are clustered in the heart of black communities in Harlem, Crown Heights, Brownsville and Brooklyn.  The problem extends far beyond New York.  Parents are pushing back.

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Charters: Deregulation has gone too far!

business-257880_1280In a new brief, William Mathis, head of the National Education Policy Center, argues that market based accountability for charter schools just does not work.  At first glance, Florida’s policies are better than in some states.  There are, however, some fatal flaws.

He makes the case for better oversight and regulation.  His recommendations take a national perspective and include these general process requirements:

authorizers, those who approve charter contracts, control the criteria for granting charters and the length of time charters are in effect.  Authorizers (in Florida, are the local school boards) must also specify the accountability mechanism for charters, and the state should fund oversight. 

The basic difference between Florida’s policy and this recommendation is that in Florida, districts are the authorizer of charters, but they have little control over the criteria charters must meet and little access to information about charter fiscal policies and practices.  The State legislature defines criteria for granting charters which are so broad that districts are not able to designate which charters are needed and actually are innovative.

The Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education hold the reins of power.  Thus, oversight is by design, minimal.  No one ‘close to the store’ is watching what is going on behind the scenes.  Even many charter school oversight boards have little knowledge of school practices.  The press and whistleblowers ferret out problems that fester.

The brief also addresses operational policies i.e.:

Governance including budget, admissions procedures, discipline practices, and civil rights protection should be transparent.  Annual reports and audits must be publically available and facilities must meet building codes and inspections.  Staff background checks should be required.

Again, these recommendations, on the surface, are mostly met in Florida’s charter school policies.  Annual audits are  required.  Admission lotteries for vacant seats are mandated.  Monthly budget reports are available.  What is missing?  Basically two loopholes, aa mile wide, exist.  The first problem is that there is no corrective action for fiscal mismanagement that does not reach a crisis level or for lapses in operations that impact which students enroll, retention of teachers, or suspension or dismissal of students.

The second problem is the lack of transparency that for-profit charter management firms enjoy.  Budgets of their charter schools lack the detail of where and how money is spent.  These companies control the entire budget, but financial records of for-profit privately run companies are shielded from public view.  Thus, the public has access to charter school facility costs, for example, but no access to how these costs are generated.  In some cases, it is like giving a blank check that may be nearly half of the budget without explanation of where the money ended up.

The one consolation in all of the exposure of charter mismanagement is that it is now becoming part of the public discussion about school choice.  Privitizing schools may give the appearance of facilitating innovation, but the reality is too often that it results in the loss of public trust.

The Racial Divide in Charters

directory-281476_1280Today’s New York Times delves into the divide within communities over charter schools.  The NAACP is calling for a moratorium on charters because they are increasing not only the racial divide but also the economic divide.   Charters in some cities, particularly cities with fewer charter schools as in Newark, Boston or Washington tend to do better than in cities with many charters, but as the number of charters increases, achievement decreases.  The reasons become clear:

Charters are viewed by some parents as an ‘escape’ from schools that must serve children with discipline and other emotional problems.  Charter educational programs may be no better than in traditional schools, but ‘problem’ students are either screened out or suspended.  Suspension rates are higher in charters and disproportionately impact minority students.  Achievement for those who remain may rise giving the appearance of being better.

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