Would you like a summary of what happened in the Florida Legislature this week? See The Capital Report.
Have you ever been in a maze and had trouble finding the exit? Tracking bills through the legislative process is like that. Well, it is even worse because some bills get lost and others change their identity. I tried to check on the Best and Brightest bills. SB 1552 is no longer just about teacher recruitment bonuses. It is also about school improvement. But, school improvement used to be about Schools of Hope. Forget all the old bill numbers; it is time to start anew. Here’s what happened:
Senator Simmons filed an amendment to his Best and Brightest teacher recruitment bill SB 1552. The bill incorporates many of the provisions in House bill 796 and broadens eligibility for scholarships. It adds college level tests and grade point averages etc. to those high school SAT and ACT scores that seemed such a bizarre way to select and reward teachers. The new bills are not perfect but are an improvement. They could help make teaching a more attractive option in this time of teacher shortages. At least the bill provides multiple and diverse ways to qualify for salary bonuses.
Yesterday, SB 1552 changed again. Senator Simmons filed another amendment to insert some School Improvement language from HB 5105. The League was unhappy with HB 5105 last week. It promoted Schools of Hope that took control of struggling schools away from districts. Pulling students out of the district simply weakens all schools.
Senator Simmons’ amendment not only eliminates Schools of Hope funding, it maintains district control. It provides support and flexibility that has long been needed. Schools receiving grades below a “C” will have turn around support that includes:
- An additional hour of instruction.
- Wrap around community support services provided by a non-profit entity that includes health services, after school programs, drug prevention, college and career readiness and food and clothing banks.
- Principal autonomy mostly in the curriculum.
Traditional public schools that fail to improve after three years of intensive support still face a choice to either reassign students, close the school and reopen as a charter, or contract either as a conversion charter school or with an outside agency to run the school.
Why are the House and Senate education committees operating differently this year? There has been relatively little discussion about differences in the policies offered by each chamber. All of a sudden, bills in the Senate have replaced House bills. There are no committee hearings open to the public on these changes. Instead, the House and Senate bills go to the conference committee that includes leaders from each chamber. They negotiate the final bills in secret.
The differences in policy have huge financial impact. For example:
The House and the Senate are at the horse trading part of the session. The Senate bills by and large are supportive of public schools (except for SB 796). The House bills support charter school expansion. Both chambers are concerned with struggling schools. The House wants to shift these schools to the private sector. Senate bills focus on making it possible for public schools to improve.
Remember our Action Alert on 5101, 5103 and 5105? Everything is now different. Some things are better, at least for now. Here’s the latest:
Last night, SB 376 (Simmons) replaced HB 5103. The amended version of SB 376 by Senator Farmer had all we hoped for. It inserted language that gave districts’ discretion on whether to share local facility capital outlay with charters. It controlled the mismanagement and self enrichment due to charter real estate practices.
Now the bill goes to the conference committee to negotiate with the House. Will SB 376 survive? Who knows. Be happy today.
The House bill provides $100 million dollars for about 650 charter school facilities and $20 million for the over 4,000 public schools. The Senate bill provides $75 million each for public and charter schools. Remember that charters are called public schools, but their buildings are privately owned.
The priority of the House is to expand charters. Originally, charters were intended to be low-cost alternatives to meet Florida’s population growth, and the need, at that time, for more schools. Now, nearly forty percent of charters are run by for-profit companies that make most of their money from real estate. Rents and leases often are excessive. The House wants local districts to share local funds with charters, and they want more state PECO funds to go to charters.
There is very little PECO money. The funding sources are drying up. The Senate wants to float bonds. The House does not. Where will the House get the money for these privately owned facilities charters use? It wants to take over public school facilities. See this News4Jax article for more insight.
Some charters fill a legitimate need. Too many simply duplicate what public schools offer. Instead of putting money into real estate, the legislature should put money into instruction. Schools need to offer extended days and summer programs. They need funding to improve aging schools. They do not need charters whose only purpose is to make money.
Schools of Hope is the latest panacea in Florida for economically and racially segregated schools. Low performing schools can either be closed or turned into charters. These charters, called Schools of Hope would be run by charters like KIPP that operate no-nonsense schools in low income areas. Students who survive the harsh discipline policies can do well. The others, often as many as forty percent of students, are counseled to leave school. What happens to these students?
It asks the Commissioner of Education to study achievement levels and their relationship to student performance and success. The Commissioner is charged to recommend changes in the meaning of the achievement levels to the Governor and the Speaker, the President of the Senate and the State Board of Education by July 2018.
This is the procedure that is required in existing law to change performance standards on the FSA. It has been tried before. What would the approximate impact be?
It’s that time in the legislative session. The proposed budgets are out. The bargaining begins. The Florida House wants money for charter schools. The Senate wants money for public schools.
Many legislators want money to expand tuition payments to private, mostly religious schools. HB 15 adds children of military families to the tax credit voucher program. The per student increases from 80 to 88% of the FEFP public school amount for elementary students. Middle school funding increases to 92% and high school to 96% of FEFP. The pretense that the Florida tax credit scholarship program saves money is gone. Corporate taxes that could help Floridians go to private schools that have little accountability and uncertified teachers.
Charter school bills feature getting a share of local property taxes for facilities, taking over struggling public schools, and creating a separate charter school system. In addition, they allow uncertified teachers in charters and require public school facilities be given to charters. There is more.
A lot of hoopla has been centered around third grade retention based on Florida assessment scores. It was credited for the large increase in Florida’s fourth grade reading scores. Something went wrong, however, in eighth grade. What went ‘wrong’ may have nothing to do with the quality of instruction. If so, what could explain the apparent decrease in eighth grade achievement? Some possibilities are suggested.
The case for retention. Retention became mandatory for third grade in 2002-03. Florida, however, retains students beginning in kindergarten as the above chart shows. Thirteen percent of third graders were retained. An additional nine percent of the lowest scoring students were promoted with a ‘good cause exemption’ such as a portfolio, an approved alternative test or consideration of a type of disability, and certain English language proficiency rules.
Retention helped (58%) some students according to a 2006 Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) study. It certainly boosted the image of the ‘Florida miracle’ of achievement increase. In spite of the publicity about school reform measures, however, the chart below shows the greatest improvement occurred between 1998 and 2002, before reforms and mandatory retention were implemented. Florida went from below the national average in fourth grade reading and math scores to above the national average. Some gains continued afterward.
Changes in retention policy. Over the years, retention has diminished because more exemptions were granted. (Some students were simply getting too old for the grade in which they were enrolled.) In 2014-15, the Florida Department of Education granted exemptions to 28,436 third grade students.
Note below the significant decrease in non promotions in 2014-15, in spite of enrollment increases, especially for third and ninth grade.
Retentions: 2002-03 2014-15
Kindergarten: 13,278 7,674
First Grade: 15,360 8,250
Third Grade: 27,713 9,458
Ninth Grade: 51,638 9,870
As of 2011-12, only fourteen states mandated third grade retention. Florida’s high retention rates compared to other states no doubt helped boost its fourth grade National Assessment of Education Progress (N.A.E.P.) scores in earlier years, but there may be more to that story.
Questions about the value of retention. When results are not clear, opposition grows. HB 131 Cortes (SB 1280 Rodriquez) have been filed to end third grade retention.
The big puzzle now perplexing the legislature, Senator Stargel SB 360 in particular, is why Florida’s fourth grade NAEP reading scores are six points higher than the national average, but eighth grade scores are just average. Fourth grade math scores are higher than average, but eighth grade math scores are consistently lower. Stargel proposes a study to find the answer. A look at the NAEP data gives some clues:
In fourth grade, 39% of students score at or above the NAEP reading proficiency level. Only thirty percent do so in eighth grade. These are the top scoring students.
One would expect that the percentage of high scoring students would be relatively the same for fourth and eighth grades unless, in some way, students’ characteristics change from elementary to middle school. What could account for the difference?
Do Florida students’ reading skills get worse over time? This seems unlikely. There was a relatively large increase in reading scores for eighth grade in 2009, and scores have only fluctuated slightly since then.
Other possible explanations. Perhaps eighth grade student characteristics are now different than in fourth grade? How could this be? There are several ways to explore this possibility:
- Florida’s retention policy is more extreme than most other states’ policies. Thus, Florida has more students who have been in school longer by fourth grade than do other states. One would expect their reading and math levels to be higher. This advantage may be lost by eighth grade when these skills are more complex.
- Does Florida’s school choice policy pull out more low scoring students in elementary grades, thereby elevating its fourth grade scores compared to other states? Do many of these students return to public schools in middle school and lower the state achievement scores?
We know from Florida DOE data that the Florida tax credit program enrollment drops more than one half between kindergarten and eighth grade. Which students leave the private schools and which remain? If the struggling students leave, as the DOE evaluations suggest, eighth grade scores in public schools would decline.
A similar examination of the achievement levels of students who return to public schools from charter schools between fourth and eighth grade may also shed some light on the changing student achievement
I welcome an evaluation of Florida’s school accountability approach to improving student learning.