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.

Lots of ways to cheat

Pathway Charter in Brevard faced closure in 2016, so it closed and reopened as a private school. It served the same students in the same location. Enrollment numbers at the charter were a little fuzzy, however. It seems that the principal inflated the numbers and collected $49,000 more than it was entitled to.

As a private school, it changed its name to New Horizons. Now, it faces fraud charges. It seems the school filed 39 identical applications for FTC Scholarships. It collected $20,400 for students with disabilities from the state. Then, there are a few thousand dollars spent for a vacation and some personal items.

The lack of regulation and oversight makes cheating a game of choice. See Sun Sentinel story.

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 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.

Fla. Appeals Court Supports State Education Policy

No surprise, the First District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court ruling against Citizens for Strong Schools. Basically, the Court held that the “high quality” and “efficient”, language from Article IX of the Florida constitution, were political judgments. The school choice, and testing and accountability policies were political decisions not subject to the jurisdiction of the courts. If it is truly political, then the voters have to change what is.

In an additional ruling, the court decided that vouchers for the McKay scholarships for children with some form of disability did not violate the uniform system of free public schools provision in the constitution.

Southern Legal Counsel, which filed the case, now must decide how to go forward. The case can be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. You can read about the case on their website.

Education funding and fairness lawsuits occur across the country. For an overview of other cases see the Education Law Center.

This case has gone on for years. It will continue the fight. Floridians must also continue the fight for high quality, fair and efficient schools.

Hidden Curriculum: Lost Children

The Huffington Post took on a Herculean task. It created a database of 8000 schools across 25 of the 27 states with private school choice programs. They check their religious affiliations and try to identify the curriculum.

Their results found 25% were non religious private schools. Of the 6000 religious schools, 29% were Catholic and 42% were Christian-non Catholic. There were a few other religions represented 2% Jewish and 1% Muslim faiths.

The reporters focused on the 2500 Christian non Catholic schools. They checked websites and/or contacted the schools to identify which curriculum was used. Many declined to respond to requests for textbook information. Of those who did respond, about one third of the Christian non Catholic schools used Abeka, Bob Jones or ACE textbooks for at least part of their curriculum. The article lists 1024 Florida private choice schools using these texts. The number raises questions.

While the database does list the names and locations of the schools, the numbers exceed the Florida private school list and the number of private Florida tax credit schools reported by the Department of Education. Florida reports 2663 private schools of which 1733 are private FTC schools. Two thirds or about 1154 of the FTC schools are religious. If about half of those are Christian, non Catholic, the actual number of private choice schools using those fundamentalist Christian texts would be closer to 385 than to the 1000 the article lists.

Do the numbers matter? What is really important are the children and whether the State of Florida should provide funding, directly or indirectly to private schools, most of which are religious. If you are interested in the ideology behind the fundamentalist Christian textbooks and the interviews with children who felt they had been deprived of an education, read the article. At one point I had several of these books to review. It will give you pause. The children matter.

FTC Private Schools: A Disturbing Trend

Over time, a higher percentage of FTC scholarship students are enrolling in private, high poverty schools. Their long term success rate decreases. FTC students in schools with more than 30% FTC students do less well than similar FTC students in private schools that enroll fewer FTC students. We can only speculate why this may be so. According to this report released by the Brookings Institute, differences could be related to teacher certification, length of the school year, or the type of curricula.

Perhaps even more troubling is over a third of FTC students return to public schools in one year; over half return in two years. Students who struggle academically are the most likely to leave private schools, and they are further behind than before they left public schools. Choice is creating churn, and churn hurts students.

The Florida House Innovation subcommittee on Education hearing December 6, 2017 agenda focused on needed regulations. Representatives from the McKay Scholarship program, the Florida DOE, Step Up for Students and the A.A.A. FTC distribution agencies testified. The theme was predictable; you can’t regulate your way to quality. Private schools do not want the testing and accountability system mandated for public schools. About one third of the private schools do not choose to participate in the FTC program in order to be free of regulation.

Nevertheless, at least the Catholic Diocese representative differentiated regulation from quality standards. He reported that Catholic schools in Florida require accreditation and teacher certification, unlike many other types of private schools accepting FTC scholarships. Catholic (15%) and religious non Christian school students (5% Jewish or Muslim) tend to enroll in a community college at a higher rate than similar students in district schools. FTC students in other private schools tend to do about the same or less well than similar public school students.

The hearing agenda was focused on needed regulation in the FTC program. The State, by law, visits few schools. Moreover, of the over 1700 FTC schools that enroll 98,889 students, only 681 schools that receive more than $250,000 must file financial reports.

Proposed regulations to stem the mismanagement of schools included more DOE site visits, better background checks for private school owners, improved information about schools for parents, and quarterly rather than annual financial reports.

Little will come of these regulations. The DOE would need an army to visit nearly 2,000 private schools. Better paperwork won’t create quality programs. Expanding FTC enrollment in private high poverty schools, however, will make a bad problem worse. The difference between public and private high poverty schools is that the lack of oversight and transparency keeps parents in the dark. There is a message in all of this…students in schools with high quality staff and mixed income families do better. How do families get that choice?

There was at least one bright spot. Representative Lee made the comment that too little was said about the many successes public schools have. He is right.

Donalds files Another Textbook Bill

Who decides what children learn and which instructional materials they use? Some say the Florida school districts and Department of Education have that responsibility. Rep. Byron Donalds seeks to strengthen the law, HB 989, he co-sponsored in 2017 to give the community the right to review textbooks. This time, HB 827 would allow parents to suggest alternatives to books and instructional materials they do not like. School boards must then contact publishers and invite them to bid on purchases. The State Board of Education approves textbooks.

Texas experienced the same pressure from religious groups. Bill Moyers summarized their concerns including separation of church and state, censoring capitalism, lack of conservative spokespersons, social expectations, and others.