Separate and Unequal Destruction

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?

 

 

 

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Increase FSA passing standards?

Senate bill SB 926 contains a phrase that changes the name of the level 3 on the FSA from ‘satisfactory’ to ‘proficient’.  What does that mean?  Amendment # 351834 was filed to find out.

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?

 

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It’s Take Over Time

Legislation

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.

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Retain Students or Do not Retain?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senate Committee Considers Testing: New Bill Likely

It would seem that a new bill on reducing the testing requirement is likely to emerge says Senate Education Committee acting chair  Wilton Simpson.  Currently, Senator Flores supports moving the state assessment tests to the end of the school year.  Senator Montford’s bill actually reduces the number of tests, moves testing to the end of the year, and decouples FSA gain scores from teacher evaluations.  Gain scores have been largely discredited because they are not stable indicators of teachers’ effectiveness.

Watch for the compromise bill in the Senate.  The House version of this bill, HB 773, eliminates no tests.  It moves the testing window.

 

 

 

Charter school collapse? What Should Be Done?

As many of you know, the League in Florida has been urging improvements in charter school business practices.  In this report by professors Baker, Green, and Oluwole, you will find a list of specific charter management problems and recommendations to remedy them.  We checked with Professor Green to see if the for-profit charter business practices we find in Florida correlate with those in the report.  Based on our study, he replied that it appears they do.  I am so grateful for their work.  It gives us a framework.

I hope every school district digests this list.  They can help communicate the solutions for the pending threat for a financial collapse.

 

 

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New Bill: More Money for Vouchers

The first of an expected onslaught of voucher or ‘voucher like’ bills has been filed:  HB15, Sullivan.  School choice can no longer be ignored.  The proponents have gone far beyond the smoke screen of helping poor children.  Some would argue that now they are helping themselves to public money.  Look at the numbers; you decide.  Is the state giving these children the education they deserve?

 

 

 

 

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Radical Change Proposed in U.S. Congress

Rep. King, R, IA filed H.R. 610, a bill which is a major assault on public education.  The bill would repeal the Education and Secondary School Act of 1965.  Instead, the U.S. DOE would award block grants to qualified states.  States would then distribute block grants to local education agencies (districts) in a manner that apportions funds to families who elect to home school or send their children to private schools.  In a word, it is a ‘voucher’ bill.

Curiously, the bill also revokes the nutrition standards for school breakfast and lunch programs.

Our public schools are the backbone of our democracy.  This bill undermines an educational system that serves everyone, not just those that private schools chose to accept.  This is just the beginning of an assault on public education.  It is time to push back and keep pushing.

The Network for Public Education has an Action Alert to notify your representatives to oppose this bill.  You can access their site here.

Annual teacher contract renewals threatened?

Legislation

Rep. Grant filed a bill HB373 that would not allow districts to grant annual contract renewals, as some districts do, for teachers who receive an evaluation of ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective’.  The bill has a long way to go in the legislative process and what the bill accomplishes is not clear.  Teachers rated ‘ineffective’ may already be terminated.    Tenure is gone, and teachers are regularly dismissed.

Reasons for dismissing a teacher are specified in law according to the Florida Education Association which does not support more legislative interference in teacher contracts.  Currently, teachers are on annual contracts which must be reviewed each year.  Some districts automatically renew these contracts if there are no performance issues.

 

In 2011, Governor Scott signed SB 736 that altered the entire teacher evaluation system:

  • Teachers hired after 2011 have a one-year probation and be subject to immediate dismissal. After the first year, they have annual contracts and annual reviews.
  • Teachers hired prior to 2011 continue to have professional service contracts with automatic renewal, but they would be subject to immediate dismissal for just cause.  All teachers, however, must renew their teacher certificates every five years, and those teachers with two sequential unsatisfactory ratings would be dismissed.
  • Teachers receiving marginal ratings must undergo training.  (Whether or not principals are willing to arrange for the appropriate remediation is a concern.  It is suggested that it may be simply easier to give a low rating and dismiss the teacher).
  • Workforce reduction must be based on program needs and performance evaluations, not last hired, first fired policies.
  • Two salary plans performance (merit) or the years of teaching pay schedules are used.  Teachers hired before 2011 are able to transfer to the merit plan, if they wish.