Bridging the Gap in Pinellas

In 2016, Pinellas County schools were in a crisis they made themselves. Five schools were labeled “Failure Factories”. They were the result of a 2007 school board decision to end busing and allow the resegregation of schools. Prior to 2007, Pinellas was under a federal school integration plan. When busing ended, south Pinellas schools became very segregated. In theory, these mostly minority schools were promised district support; in practice little support was given. As a result, they could not keep teachers or students and achievement levels plummeted. Of the 187 Florida schools whose students were from families as poor or poorer, only seven had lower achievement scores than the ‘Failure Factories’. The pattern of the increase in the achievement gap as schools became more segregated is a national problem.

In 2016, Pinellas school district launched a massive effort to turn around these five schools and to eliminate the achievement gap in all schools, by infusing data driven instruction, faculty training to change expectations for their students, teacher bonuses, and a host of other support programs for students and families. The report is out for the first year. Schools improved slightly on five measures: graduation rate, advanced coursework enrollment, ESE identification, minority hiring, and student discipline. On the sixth measure, closing the achievement gap between white and black students, there was no change. Approximately one-third of the black students earned a level 3 score, indicating proficiency or near proficiency levels in math and English language skills.

Pinellas set a ten-year goal to end the achievement gap. It is too early to predict how well students will fare. Some schools made more progress than others. Gains may be uneven from year-to-year. Why this is so matters. Is it a difference in attitude of students and the school community, a meaningful difference in the implementation of the plan in particular schools, or changes in socio-economic differences in student backgrounds within schools? Student enrollment within a school can change dramatically from year-to-year as families move around or enroll and then withdraw children in charters and tax credit supported private schools. These are the questions the district must address to give meaning to the data. Numbers do not tell the real story; they just shine a light on a problem.

It is short sighted to put fingers of blame on the districts alone. Elected school boards reflect community values. The entire community must be committed to providing equal access to a high quality education for all students. Finding ways to create equal access within and across schools is a challenge thwarted by the more segregated housing patterns that have evolved in the last twenty years.

Civics vs. Politics: Amendment 8 won’t go away

Amendment 8 is off the ballot. Using civics education to promote teaching creationism or to justify any other aspect of the ultra conservative ideology is still in play. The Tampa Tribune highlights civics education as a political issue in the Florida campaign for governor. It is not a surprise. Civics education was part of Amendment 8. It was not just a cover for the proposal to create a separate educational system for charter schools. It was part of a larger strategy to build support for privatizing our public schools.

Below find earlier posts on the civics issue in Florida. You can also get a preview of what to expect in the next legislative session by watching the video of the views of the two candidates for Florida’s governor.

https://lwveducation.com/politics-in-science-and-civics-curriculum/ What would be taught in a ‘new’ civics curriculum?

https://lwveducation.com/governor-graham-on-crc-education-amendment/ Civics education is a political ploy.

https://lwveducation.com/whats-going-on-with-civics-education/ College level civics test stalemate over how to define what will be covered in a new test.

Would you like to see and hear how the two Florida candidates for governor differ on education policy? Watch the video here.

Step by Step Guide to Uncovering Dark Money School Board Races

How do you really know who is funding a school board race? It matters. Even though the amount of money contributed does not guarantee victory, it does disclose who is behind a candidate. Are the supporters local? Or, are they organizations backed by billionaires or a particular ideology? Some candidates are stealth candidates. Their backers may not be obvious.

If you want to know more about your local candidates, here is a step by step process. It just takes a ‘will to know’. Once you do know, tell others.

Accountabaloney sends this guide to tracking donors:

Tomorrow I will post the process for tracking committee contributions, or you can go to the Accountabaloney website: Question the Source.

Florida 5th Worst State for Teachers

Florida has a teacher shortage; here are reasons why. According to an article in the Herald Tribune, only Louisiana, North Carolina, Arizona and Hawaii are worse than Florida on a group of measures such as:

  1. salaries, pensions, income growth potential
  2. student-teacher ratios
  3. teacher turnover, union strength, teacher safety

Florida ranks 41st in per pupil spending. It takes an average of eleven years before Florida teachers can expect to earn $48,000. Unfortunately, a fifth of all teachers resign before the end of their first year. About one-half resign within five years. Which states, according to the financial analysis by WalletHub, are the best states in which to teach? New York, Connecticut, and Minnesota.

The news is not all bad. Across all 25 indicators used to rank states on overall school quality, not only on teaching conditions, Florida ranks 26th.

I was particularly interested in how WalletHub defined ‘school quality’. The measures that used included: performance, funding, safety, class size, and instructor credentials. It would seem from this study that Florida is a ‘middle of the road’ state educational system with a big problem attracting and keeping teachers.

Could it happen here, No Doubt About It? Consider Arizona

Arizona Superintendent of Schools Diane Douglas announced she will recommend the curriculum standards for Classical Academy charter schools. They are sponsored by Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian college in Michigan that has gone into the charter business. It had to do something a few years ago because it was scandal ridden due to the sexual exploits of its president resulting in his son’s wife’s suicide. It is also the charter chain that Erika Donalds, a Collier County Florida school board member, personally supports. She has filed a proposal to open another one in Martin County. It’s the same chain that won its appeal to Florida’s State Board of Education to open a Classical Academy in Tallahassee this past week.

Florida’s State Board of Education Chair is no supporter of public schools. Marva Johnson advocated that Florida’s constitution be changed to allow public funds to support private, religious schools. Johnson was voted by SBE members to succeed Gary Chartrand. He is one of the financial supporters of KIPP charters in Jacksonville. He is also one of the major contributors to school board races. His candidates support charter schools.

There is a lot of money to be made from Florida’s charter schools. Almost half of the 650 charters are run by for-profit management companies that are subcontractors with the charter boards they help to create. Want to know about the inside dealings of Academica, Florida’s richest charter firm? Read the Miami Herald report. This story ran before Erik Fresen, Zulueta’s brother-in-law and former Florida legislator was arrested for forgetting for eight years to file his income tax returns. He already had been cited for conflict of interest in his role at Academica.

Large non-profit charter management chains have their own way of making money. Eva Moskowitz, head of the NY based Success Academies, made over $782,000 in 2016 to run 46 schools. The Superintendent of Orange County, Florida public schools runs 191 schools, but her salary is less than half of what Moskowitz earns.

Until Florida citizens demand change, too many charters will syphon off public tax dollars for private gain. When the money goes to charters, it comes from your children’s schools.

Public Schools Matter Because…..

We have been asking our local leaders why public schools matter to them. We post them on the League’s and the Alachua County PTA Council websites. Here are a few of them. You can see more on the League of Women Voters Alachua/Gainesville website.

Jodi Siegel will be leading the case for Citizens for Strong Schools on November 8th at the Florida Supreme Court hearing.

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Chris Doering is one of our ‘famous Gators’ who likes living in Gainesville.

Reverend Karl Andersen is president of the Alachua County Christian Pastors Association.

Florida State School Board Overturns Leon County’s Vote on Classical Academy

The expansion of Classical Academies in Florida is part of the push by Senator Negron, Representative Corcoran and the pro Amendment 8 coalition. These are the charters sponsored by Hillsdale College, the conservative Christian college backed by the DeVos family. They do not call their curriculum religious. They call it the development of ‘moral character and civic virtue’. This is the same group behind the Classical Academies with which Erika Donalds is associated.

It is no surprise that Leon County’s rejection of this new charter school was overturned. At times school districts have had to resort to the courts when the State Board refused to support local school district decisions. In 2017, the Court of Appeals rejected the SBE decision to overturn the Indian River school board’s decision to block two for-profit charters that had shaky a financial management plan.

The Governor appoints State Board of Education members. There is no mechanism to balance its membership. School policy simply becomes political.

Integrity Florida Nails the For-Profit Charter Industry

A newly released report by Integrity Florida underscores the Florida League of Women Voters concerns about charter school policy and its negative impact on public schools. Remember that charters are funded by public tax dollars but run by private companies. The report focuses on the abuse and negative impact of for-profit charters in Florida.

It’s all here.

KEY EXCERPTS

  1. Page 17-18. For-profit charters like Academica, CSUSA, Imagine and S.M.A.R.T. perform less well than similar students in traditional public schools.
  2. Page 19: For-profit charters hurt public schools…substantial share of public expenditure…extracted for personal or business financial gain.
  3. Page 21: Lease and management fees are largest income source of for-profit charters.
  4. Page 22: 373 charters have closed.
  5. Page 24: Corruption continues even after 2016 legislative reforms.
  6. Page 25: Charters cherry pick students to reduce costs and services for struggling students.
  7. Page 26: Charters use money and influence to affect policy outcomes. $2,651,639 was spent on committee and campaign contributions in 2016 alone. John Kirtley, who heads many of these committees also is chair of Step Up for Students which distributes a billion dollars in corporate tax credit scholarships to private schools. All Children Matters, run by Betsy DeVos, gave over $4 million to Florida political committees between 2004 and 2010. The Walton family gave over $7 million between 2008 and 2016 to Florida’s All Children Matter. Large contributions by the Waltons, John Kirtley, CSUSA, Academica, Gary Chartrand, and others were also made to the Florida Federation for Children. For profit charters have spent over $8 million in lobbying in Tallahassee.
  8. Page 35: Conflict of interest claims in the Florida legislature have been made against current and former legislators including Richard Corcoran, Manny Diaz, Anitere Flores, Michael Bileca, Eric Fresen, John Legg, Seth McKeel, Kelli Stargel, Ralph Arza, and Will Weatherford.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?

There are a number of management practices recommended including the publication of charter contracts, prohibition of advertising for students, and increasing local school district oversight authority. Other specific recommendations include:

  1. Limit charter expansion.
  2. Report for-profit charter expenditures and profits by school.
  3. Fund public schools sufficiently to remove competition.
  4. Limit the amount of public funds for leases.
  5. Report number of charter student drop outs, withdrawals, and expulsions.

California has gone a step further. Last week the governor signed a bill to prohibit further expansion of for-profit charters.

Will Money Decide Jacksonville School Board Races?

All three Jacksonville school board races are in runoffs on the November ballot. The Jacksonville Times Union followed the money. Three ‘reformers’ have raised buckets of money compared to the other candidates. The largest fund raiser was lawyer David Chauncey who raised over $75,000. His wife is a KIPP recruiter. The head of Teach for America, Darryl Willie, is a candidate. Duval County cut the TFA program due to its expense and high teacher turnover rate. Wait!! Is there a potential conflict of interest here? Nick Howland, a prominent businessman, also raised over $55,000 Read the article.

Money doesn’t decide everything. As one candidate said, “He (my opponent) may outspend me, but he won’t outwork me.”