Florida Supreme Court Declines Palm Beach Case Against CSUSA

OK, it is up to us. The Supreme Court declined to hear a case against an unwanted CSUSA charter school in Palm Beach. The school board’s frustration was not with charters. Rather, it was with CSUSA’s proposals to open unneeded charters to openly compete for students. One proposal was to open a CSUSA charter across the street from Royal Palm Beach high school. Then, CSUSA submitted two more proposals, and the district went to court. The Court decided not to decide in spite of widespread opposition in the community.

Clearly, the Florida legislature and the State Board of Education are deaf to the destruction of our communities and the impact of poor fiscal policies on our educational system. Their choice policy simply ensures that no segment, public…charter…or private will have adequate funding. Thirteen districts, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Orange and Alachua among others have now joined forces to sue the State over the legislature’s seizure of control of local school district authority. More are in the wings. This is not over.

We need a change in approach to choice. We have to examine the policies of who we choose to represent our views in the legislature. If you need more information about CSUSA’s for-profit management style, see the PACT. We have to help others understand that not all choices are good choices.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

There was a big extravaganza on TV just before Irma hit Florida. Supported by Lorraine Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, Project XQ seeks to reinvent American high schools. This is not a ‘school choice’ solution to education reform. Rather, Project XQ explores ways to give students more control over their learning, and it builds on students’ talents and interests rather than sorting them by test scores into winners and losers. I am always excited when examples of what high quality, impactful teaching can be. It’s why I like the film ‘Passion to Teach’.

John Merrow reviewed XQ Super School Live. He is the former long time PBS education correspondent who views the reliance on high stakes testing as the path to increasing mediocre lessons ‘and worse’ for our children. In his book, Addicted to Reform, he argues that test based accountability stifles the creativity economists assert our schools need to promote.

Merrow concludes that Project XQ missed an opportunity to explain how the current reliance on testing and choice policies fail to address the real problems confronting students, teachers and schools. The show simply claimed schools were ‘out of date’.

There is a kernel of understanding that is emerging in the ‘testing or teaching’ debate. Reliance on test scores to drive instruction is not a new problem; it is just the modern day version of a drill and practice methodology that has a place in learning but should not be the most important one. Drill and test using technology do not replace effective teaching; they can, however, be helpful resources. It is time to examine, but not rely on, their appropriate roles.

Efforts like Project XQ are asking the right questions about effective teaching. It is also helpful to see films like ‘Passion to Teach’ that demonstrate teachers in action who develop students’ ability to control and engage in learning meaningful to them.

We are primed to enable our schools to emphasize what works. At least now we have experimented with the testing and grading reforms long enough to recognize they only make bad problems worse. Not only are we sorting kids in schools; we are sorting schools into winners and losers.

At first, we may have to focus on one school and one maverick teacher at a time, but every time we succeed, we should celebrate and replicate the experience. We do not have to accept what is, and we can make a difference by working toward what could be and should be.

Wind and Rain

Gainesville is having some disruption due to Irma’s impact. Lincoln Middle School was flooded. Archer’s power is down. So is mine! Schools here are still closed. The district hopes to open Monday. Transportation around town is still not totally safe.

I know many of you are in the same situation. My thoughts are with you.

Hope to be blogging again soon.

Should We Close Schools?

The latest push to improve test scores is to close low performing schools. This CREDO study from Stanford University was designed to see what happened to the students. They looked at traditional public schools (TPS) and charters whose students scored at or below the 20th percentile on state tests. Some schools in both sectors were closed and others not. Why? What happened to the children?

Some key findings include:

  1. Charters that closed in Florida had significantly lower performing students than students in closed public schools. Why would this be? One possible explanation is that closure corresponded not only to low performance but also to declining enrollment. Parents of charters students tended to leave failing charters before the school actually shut down. As enrollment dropped, charters could not afford to stay open.

  2. Florida closed 24 TPS over 7 years and 34 charters. While the number of closed charters is higher, 85% of the students affected were in TPS. In Florida, 4,337 students in charters were affected vs. 5,410 TPS. Closure disproportionately impacted schools with high rates of minority students over other low performing schools.

  3. Most, 82% of TPS students, stayed in another TPS after closure while only 40% of charter students stayed in charters. In Florida, there were no differences between achievement gains for closed low performing charter students over time and similar students in charters that were not closed. Over time, children from closed charters did much less well than similar children from closed TPS.

  4. Students from closed schools do better if they are transferred to schools with higher performing students. But, there are too many low performing students able to enroll in higher performing schools. Less than half of the students from closed schools landed in a better performing school.

What is the take away from the data? Closing a school hurts kids unless they enroll in a school that has higher performing students. This becomes a socio-economic integration issue. It is a school culture issue. It is an opportunity issue. Suppose there are an insufficient number of schools with higher performing students to place these children? CREDO suggests innovative new schools are needed. If the old charter did not work, what should this new innovative school be? The answer is in the data. Children learn from children who are learning!

Florida’s budget went up; education funding went down

This article gives perspective on the legislative priority for education. Everything else matters more. Adjusted for inflation since 2008, the state budget went from $79.9 to $83 billion. Education funding, also adjusted for inflation, went down $871.94 per student or down to $7293 per student. The percentage of the state budget allocated for education has declined from 32% to 29%. There is more money in the budget now, but less goes to education.

The drop in funding costs Marion County $24.9 million. What has it cost your county?

CRC: Nothing Subtle About This

The first Commission on the Constitutional Revision Committee has filed his proposals to amend the Florida Constitution. The one that struck me immediately was P0004 filed by Roberto Martinez. He simply struck the language prohibiting taking money from the State or political subdivisions or agency from the public treasury and giving it to religious denomination, church or sect.

Basically, this would enable vouchers to private schools which the Florida Constitution now prohibits

The voters would have to approve this amendment.

HB 7069 Lawsuit Growing

The lawsuit against HB 7069 has a law firm to represent the 11 school districts that have now joined the complaint about the Florida legislature’s attack on local public school board authority. The Florida Constitution states that local elected school boards govern our schools. The legislature believes it does. More districts are considering the suit. Thus far, only Sarasota has decided not to participate.

Bay
Broward
Hamilton
Lee
Martin
Miami-Dade
Orange
Palm Beach
Polk
St Lucie
Volusia

Sarasota voted not to join

Senator Simmons Replaced

The hero of the last legislative session fought a valiant effort for fairness and equity in education. Senator Simmons led the charge against the most egregious parts of HB 7069. As Chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Education, he was in a position to bargain. He tried to stem the flow of money to charter schools. He recognized the inequities. He saw the damage and possible unconstitutionality of taking local capital outlay from public schools and giving it to privately owned charters. His reward?

He was moved from his post on education to the appropriations subcommittee on general government. His replacement is a first term senator from Naples who just moved up from the House. The only thing I could find out about her was that she was in favor of school uniforms. She did support HB 7069, the religious expression bill and the textbook review bill. She campaigned on her record of consistently cutting taxes, so she should fit right in with Governor Scott’s priorities for the next session.

An uneasy feeling: It is happening here.

Will teacher certification standards tumble? Have you followed the story about SUNY’s (State University of New York) charter committee program to ‘certify’ teachers? It’s the anybody can teach approach.

With four hours of instruction by a qualified teacher holding a Master’s degree, a new teacher can become certified. You can check out the proposed New York regulations. Is it happening in Florida? Well….take a look.

Buried in HB 7069 is the teacher mentor program. For Florida district schools, teachers who hold temporary certificates and achieve a ‘highly effective’ rating do not have to sit the Professional Education Test (PET) or take additional course work.
Charter schools and charter management companies can certify their own teachers with ‘competency based programs’. They just have to have DOE approval for these programs.

The details and standards of these alternatives approaches to certification must be provided by the Florida DOE by December 31st, 2017. Districts and charters must submit their programs for approval by June, 2018.

The legislation clearly intended to improve retention of beginning teachers. Many begin teaching with temporary certificates, and about one third leave the profession without having completed the certification requirements. Four percent of district teachers leave each year, and ten percent of charter teachers leave.

Why is the charter school teacher attrition so high—low salaries, lack of retirement benefits and no teacher mentoring programs, according to a University of Florida study.

The legislature decided to fix the mentoring problem in HB 7069. See page 49. The impact of this provision could have ominous implications. The teacher shortage is real and is likely to become worse. The legislature is responding to a real problem by trying to find ways to certify teachers ‘on the job’. This has consequences that cannot be ignored.

Will small charters certify their own teachers? Will for-profit charter chains manipulate their own certification process to maintain teachers with questionable competence? Will districts maintain standards when faced with shortages? How will anyone know?

Everything is about saving money. How far down the road of lower standards will we have to go before the State recognizes that this piecemeal policy has disastrous consequences and does not address the problems we face? I remember a State Board of Education member telling me that “Teachers don’t teach for money; they teach because they love it.” Wishful thinking. Teachers have to eat too.

The Free and Reduced lunch income qualification for a family of four is 1.85 times the poverty level income or about $45,000. After twelve years, a Florida teacher average salary is $45,723. It just could be that it takes more than love to teach.

Downgrading certification standards will not contribute to the ‘love factor’, nor will it improve the quality of our schools. What are we willing to do about it? We need a continuing chorus that reaches the ears of those who do not listen carefully.