What did Florida’s Supreme Court decide? It only decided not to decide. The issue brought forward related to legal standing for the case. The Supreme Court agreed with the Appeal and Circuit Court decisions that taxes owed by corporations could be diverted to private school scholarships. In a way it is like saying that charitable contributions are tax deductible.
What the Court did not decide was whether or not the education these children receive is high quality. The Court decided not to decide.
“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.
An employee at the McKeel Academy has been arrested for stealing $100,000 from the charter school. The former Assistant Director for Academy faces seven felony charges relating to her creation of fake companies to hide purchases, travel expenses and other illegal activities.
McKeel Academy’s three charter schools have had other serious management problems. When will the legislature address the charter management oversight issue? These McKeel charter schools have seen problems before. But, then, its board members are in the legislature.
This one makes me smile. Maybe even laugh. Senator Stargel wants to study eighth grade reading. She asks why NAEP scores for fourth graders are so much higher in Florida than for eighth graders. Over and over educators have said that if you retain the lowest scoring third graders, they will not be in fourth grade. When they finally do arrive, they will have learned more and be older than fourth graders in other states. Thus, the fourth grade reading scores in Florida will be higher. Only a handful of states retain third graders. It is a classic smoke and mirrors tactic to inflate scores. Yet, I am not sure legislators even think about this.
Wait, there is more. According to the Florida Department of Education reports on the tax credit scholarships, students who struggle the most are more likely to go to private, mostly religious schools. This year there are over 92,000 FTC students. Most students end up leaving the private schools. Only about 18,000 students remain in the FTC program after eighth grade. Could it be that they have not made good progress in these small private schools that do not have certified teachers and are not held to the school grades or other accountability measures that public schools must meet?
Stargel is asking the Department of Education to study states with high performing middle schools to find out what they do. You can read SB 360 here. High performing states, in fact most states, do not offer tax credit scholarships to private schools. At the latest count, I found fourteen. Even states that do offer them do not have nearly the same percentage of participants as Florida.
Which states have high achieving eighth grade NAEP scores: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut. The demographics in those states are very different from the Florida population. They do not have tax credit vouchers. They place a high value on quality education and less value on state accountability programs to promote student learning.
Frankly, I am encouraged that Senator Stargel is asking questions.
Yesterday’s the Senate K12 budget committee aired proposals to reduce testing. Politico reports the following:
Eliminating required end of course exams in English, U.S. history, civics, algebra and geometry.
Allowing the use of paper and pencil as well as computer based examinations.
Substituting nationally normed tests for state assessments.
Exempting high performing students from state assessments.
Moving test administration to the last three weeks of the school year.
In Florida, charters are generally authorized by local school boards. In some states, charters are authorized by local districts, universities, state boards or even cities. This is part of the continuing struggle over control of public schools. Florida’s legislature has tried to create state charter review boards, but the resistance is strong.
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?
According to the Tallahassee News Service of Florida, Governor Scott will support $43 million dollars in 2017 teacher bonuses. Details of the plan are not yet available, but the Governor said that the plan will target new teachers who show great potential and veteran teachers who show the highest student academic growth among their peers. The current method of qualifying based on test scores will change.
Representative John Cortes D. Osceola has filed bill 131 to end mandatory third grade retention based on the English Language Arts score on the Florida Assessment. Districts may retain students if needed, but they must continue to provide intensive remedial instruction. The provisions remain for promoting retained students mid year if the have improved their reading skills.
Rep. Cortes was elected to the Florida House in 2014. He does not serve on any legislative education committees, and the bill has yet to gain a Senate sponsor. Whether or not his bill progresses is worth watching. Unfortunately, third grade retention helps inflate fourth grade NAEP scores, and illusion is one of the signatures of school choice.