Miami is the school choice capital! According to this EducationNext article, 20% of Miami’s public schools are charters. Another 20% of students are in private schools, and approximately half of those are paid for with vouchers and tax credit scholarships. It does not stop there. District-run choice programs now enroll 61% of public school children. Is this a school choice dream or a nightmare?
Dade County schools tout high academic achievement. The district receives an ‘A’ grade from the state and no failing school grades. Of course, there are only 15 schools in the state that have an ‘F’ rating, so Miami is not unique there. An ‘A’ school only has to earn 62% of the possible points based on state assessment test scores etc. Over one-half of all Florida’s schools earn an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade.
Miami’s fourth grade students rank above the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test, but there is no statistically significant difference between Duval, Hillsborough and Dade Counties’ scores. Could it be that third grade retention pushes Florida scores up because so many fourth graders were retained?
The Dade County eighth grade NAEP scores also seem to be higher in comparison to other cities. Yet, the average Miami-Dade score is right at the national average. Miami’s high school graduation rate is just below the national average. It would seem that Miami-Dade is good at hype. The reality is quite different on the ground.
According to the report ‘Tough Choices‘, Miami is the second most segregated district in the state. Of 460 schools in Miami, 214 are considered isolated. They are more than 85% single race. Miami’s lowest performing schools are overwhelmingly black. Hispanic students also tend to be enrolled in segregated schools.
Is this what Florida is striving for? Our schools are driven by grades which are easy to manipulate. Yet, Florida, the third largest state in the nation, is just average in student achievement and children are increasingly separated by race and economic status.
Choice has had an impact in Miami-Dade, but it is on the lives of families and funding for school facilities. One wonders how families manage the challenges presented by so many choices, many of which are not good choices.
*What happens when parents chose a school, but the school does not chose their child? How do parents manage when their child’s school is located an hour’s drive away?
*What happens when children are told that their school is not a ‘good fit’ for them.
*What happens when a parent realizes that the teachers at their charter or private school are not well qualified and tend to leave quickly?
*How does a parent console a child whose test scores do not qualify for a magnet program but his friend’s score does. The score difference may be minimal, but the impact is not. This is the world that broad-based choice creates. A feeling of anxiety permeates these schools defeating a child’s willingness to learn.
Florida will expand its career and technical programs in the next legislative session. adding another level of complexity,.Finding competent teachers for these skills will be a challenge. Even more difficult, Florida closure rate for charters is exceptionally high.