New Train Bill Emerging in Florida House Tomorrow

A draft education bill is circulating. It has a temporary number PCB EDC 18-01, but it is already over 100 pages long. It is the Florida House compilation of the many bills currently filed to expand the privatization of our public schools. The ‘bullying bill’ is not there, but there are some new wrinkles. Tomorrow, Thursday Jan 24th, the House Education Committee will hear the bill. It may be worth listening at 10am to figure out what is in it. Here is my take:

PUBLIC DISTRICT SCHOOL PROPOSALS: Basically these provisions reduce district control and/or invite chaos depending on your point of view.

  1. Revise district superintendents’ authority to organize schools. The bill provides that instructional personnel should be free from ‘burdensome regulations’. Provide a safety survey and emergency situation communication system.
  2. Give access to surplus district property to charter schools.
  3. Adding social studies content to ELA writing assessment prompts, and revising format to release FSA assessment questions and requiring paper assessments in ELA and mathematics is grades 3-8.
  4. Creating district-autonomous schools in which employers may be public or private. Public employees may participate in the Florida Retirement System.

CHARTER SCHOOL ORGANIZATION: These measures actually increase charter centralization, decrease termination criteria, and promote charter growth and expansion.

  1. Revising high performance charter school systems applications, weakening termination criteria by changing from ‘violations of law’ to ‘material violations of law’, changes district/charter dispute resolution to a final decision made by an administrative judge who will award cost payment to the prevailing party. Revising criteria for high-performing charter school status.
  2. Authorizing charters and management organizations in addition to districts and post secondary institutions to provide school leader programs, and renaming and expanding Principal Autonomy Pilot Program. Adds mandatory professional development for school leadership teams and provides a principal bonus of $10,000. Principals will be allowed to supervise multiple charter schools. School district or charter board members may not be employees of the school. Authorizing high performing charters to create two new charters per year.
  3. Funding and payment liability of independent school boards
  4. Exemption from laws of sections 1000-1013 Florida law allows schools that earn no less than a ‘B’ grade to continue exemption.

PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS: While some improvement is included to exclude people with criminal records from staffing private schools, a new scholarship program is proposed for students who score below a ‘3’ on the FSA reading test. It is funded by tax credits for new cars sold and is administered by Step Up for Children.
8. Deletes Florida Tax Credit qualifications for scholarships and includes any private school. Creates reading scholarship accounts which may be used for tuition, summer programs, tutoring and/or student services or to a college savings account. Expands requirements for private school web page information; requires Level 2 background checks and increased definition of ineligible employees with criminal records; provide independent financial audit for schools receiving more than $250,000 in state revenue. Provide DOE oversight
9. Private schools are not required to state whether they will reimburse dual enrollment costs to post secondary schools.
10. DOE oversight of education scholarship funds is increased.

FLA. School Grades Out. Some wry smiles

This year everyone got smarter. I have to smile because I think of Garrison Keeler’s quip, “Everybody is above average”. Well maybe not everybody, but 57% of Florida’s schools earned an A or B grade (up from 46 percent). More than two-thirds of the schools that were being monitored through the school improvement program improved to a C or better, according to the Florida Department of Education.

The Florida DOE calculates school grades annually based on up to 11 components, including student achievement and learning gains on statewide, standardized assessments and high school graduation rate. To earn an ‘A’ schools need 62% of possible points.
 
Statewide Highlights
 
1. Elementary schools saw the largest percentage point increase in “A” schools, with 30 percent (542 schools) of elementary schools earning an “A” in 2016-17, up from 21 percent (386 schools) in 2015-16.

  1. The number of “F” schools decreased by 61 percent, dropping from 111 schools in 2015-16 to 43 schools in 2016-17.
  2. 79 percent of schools that earned an “F” in 2015-16 improved by at least one letter grade in 2016-17.
  3. 71 percent of the low-performing schools for which turnaround plans were presented before the State Board of Education in July 2016 improved to a C or greater.  
  4. Forty-eight of Florida’s 67 school districts are now graded “A” or “B,” up from 38 in 2015-16. Additionally, 50 of Florida’s school districts have no “F” graded schools in 2016-17.
     
    In the years I used to do the scoring and reporting for statewide testing programs, we always saw a drop after a new test, like the FSA, was introduced and then scores rebounded. Kids are not necessarily smarter, but they are more test savvy. So are teachers. Nevertheless, some of our low performing schools in Alachua made big gains, and I am pleased. Those schools get hit with a failing school stigma that does nothing to improve morale or the school culture for academic achievement. On the other hand, the districts can’t ignore problems that seem too hard to solve. Our schools and others like them worked hard.

Have to smile folks. Schools of Hope have just lost a lot of candidates for charter school takeover. Now, if only the legislature does not turn around and raise standards again. Give the schools and the children a chance to breathe. Maybe they could even do some project based learning that would build those critical thinking and problem solving skills they need to survive in our new economy.

Charter Takeover of Jefferson County Schools: Why? 

Jefferson County schools in the Florida Panhandle, will become the State’s first charter district. The takeover by the Florida Department of Education was the result of a decade long struggle to improve the schools that simply made things worse.  This latest move is a disaster for the teachers and staff.  One half will lose their jobs for reasons that have little to do with their competence.

What happened in Jefferson County, Florida to cause the State to turn the district over to Somerset, a privately run school board that is part of the for-profit Academica charter school chain?

Continue reading

Massive Last Minute Education Bill Emerges

A new mega bill HB 7069 for education was released last night–278 pages long.   It combined provisions from other bills.  The funding is dismal; for most districts there will be less money next year.  Local district capital outlay funds do not increase and must be shared with charters which seriously harms districts.

Other provisions impact teacher bonuses and scholarships and expansion of charter schools by taking over schools in low income areas without requiring district oversight.

Testing and accountability have minor changes–Algebra II EOC is no longer required and the testing window is pushed back by allowing paper and pencil test for grades 3-6.  Districts may determine data for teacher evaluations.

Schools of Excellence and Schools of Hope are created.  It seems as though current state regulations now apply only to schools earning a grade of ‘B’ or ‘C’.  The others are granted flexibility.   The logic is flawed there.  The needs for the middle (or most students) are ignored.

For more detail, continue reading.

Continue reading

School Turnaround: Caught Between the Crosshairs

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?

Continue reading