Miami: Is This Really Our Future?

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.

Florida 2020 Education Legislation Priorities

The 2019 legislative session focused on moving money and managing guns. The laws that emerged funded Schools of Hope vouchers for private schools and shifted funds from public schools to charter school privately owned facilities.   A lawsuit against the Schools of Hope vouchers is expected.  Funding increases for teachers and students were minimal, but teachers were allowed to carry guns.

The Florida Educational Association (FEA) reached an agreement to end a lawsuit against the ‘Best and Brightest’ bonus system that discriminated against minority and older teachers.  A signature from a federal judge will provide compensation to some teachers.

Teacher Recruitment. The focus of the 2020 legislative session may shift to teacher recruitment  and what is taught. FEA reported 4,000 teacher vacancies in the fall of 2019, and months later 2,000 positions remain unfilled.  In response to significant teacher shortages, Governor DeSantis is calling for a higher starting salary for beginning teachers. The impact may be mixed. Teacher recruitment may improve, but teacher retention may decline. New teachers may earn more than many experienced teachers.  At least half of these teachers did not graduate from college level education programs and will need mentoring and professional development that typically is not a legislative priority.

Curriculum Standards.  The Governor also called for a revision to the Florida curriculum standards that determine what is taught at each grade level. Draft standards have been released, and a summary of the results of public comment has been released. There was relatively little support indicated for eliminating the Common Core elements that have been in effect for the past ten years. More concerns were reported about the age appropriate level of standards particularly for children in K-3 but also in grade nine mathematics. As content taught in higher grades is pushed down to lower grades, the expectations for reading and math readiness for six to nine year old students become inappropriate for many children.

Where these concerns will lead the legislature is uncertain. Politically, the Governor has promised to end the Common Core skills that confuse parents. Practically, yet another change in standards not only changes what skills teachers must focus on, it also mandates that the state tests, school grades, and teacher evaluations  adapt. Teachers’ frustration are due to more than inadequate salary levels.  What are the expectations they must meet?

Adding fuel to the fire is the release of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results and the SAT and ACT test results for college admission. Scores are down yet again. Achievement gaps between white and minority students are higher. Choice based on competition and test scores is not working within public schools or among public, charter, or private school voucher-type programs.

Parents from all walks of life are questioning the system that pressures students to enroll in advanced courses e.g. AP English, math and science in order to improve school grades or admission to college. For a few students, these courses are a good option. For most, it results in an unrelenting pressure to chase test scores. Once they enroll in college many retake the same course in part because the passing standard of ‘3’ is too low for success in subsequent courses. Some colleges, like the University of Florida, require a ‘4’ on AP exams to earn credit.

It is a conundrum. Students need challenging courses that stimulate their interests, and Florida ranks third in the nation in the number of students who take and pass an AP exam. Yet, less than half of Florida students who take AP pass the exam with a score of ‘3’ or higher. This score represents a ‘C’ grade at the college level. The University of Florida requires at least a ‘4’ in many subjects in order to earn college credit.  Many students would prefer advanced courses geared toward alternative career options rather than the basic college track.

How will the Florida Legislature respond to the stalemate in student achievement? More of the same test-driven competition for scores does not work. Dividing funding among public, charter, and private schools is neither less expensive nor more effective.  Teacher recruitment and retention and quality facilities are an even bigger problem for charters and most private schools.

2020 legislative priorities for professional education associations are listed below.

Florida School Board Association.

Florida Association of School Administrators.

Florida Education Association.

“An incisive and devastating critique of the Bush A+ Plan”

You have to tell it like it is, especially when so many people have so much money invested in a failing education reform policy. Read the summary of the report: Twenty Years Later: Jeb Bush’s A+ Plan fails Florida’s Children posted by Diane Ravitch. Find out the hard truth about the impact of the A+ Plan on student achievement, school grades, teaching, and communities. Insist on an end to policies that seek to destroy public schools and rob children of a high quality education.

Florida Really is the Worst!

I have always liked Peter Green’s posts, in part because I smile at the word ‘curmudgeon.’ In his post, he tells it like it is about HB 7070, Florida’s latest voucher bill. You can read it here.

For several months I have been working on an analysis of the Florida A+ Plan. It should be released soon. I have been looking at the data and asking “How bad is it?” Florida’s education policy doesn’t just have flaws, it hurts kids.

Senate Advances Voucher Bill

Public money for private schools is unconstitutional, but that does not matter to the Senate. The new Parent Empowerment bill has advanced in the Senate Read the back story here. There is no pretense that these vouchers are for low income families. The income eligibility has risen.

Paying for Someone Else’s Choice

by Sally Butzin

Family Empowerment Scholarships help parents make a choice you pay for. There is a logic disconnect in this idea when there is no guarantee that the choice parents’ make is even a good choice. Read Sally’s article in the Tallahassee Democrat. She is a League member who is taking an active role in monitoring the legislative bills coming from this session. This is a bill that is contrary to all who support public education believe.

Voucher Supporters and Opponents Coming Forward

Interesting to see how the religious communities view vouchers. The Catholic church supports them. The Florida Council of Churches is opposed. Reverend Russell Meyer was quoted in a Florida Phoenix article. He stated that there should be the same accountability standard for all schools. Teachers should be certified. He further said that there should be one standard of accountability for all schools supported by public money. I could not agree more. See the article here.

Death by a Thousand Cuts

Valerie Strauss, in the Washington Post, shares an article outlining the history of school privatization….and why it matters.

The history, written by Joanne Barkan, is well documented. It centers on the backlash from desegregation, and ties it to the increasing role of the federal government in education. For example, the first federal charter school legislation was signed by President Bill Clinton. Yet nearly twenty-five years later, support for charters and vouchers is waning. The reasons are spelled out in the discussion of the following topics:

*Sowing the seeds of market based reform
*Building a movement from the top down
*Anatomy of vouchers and charter schools
*Charter school performance
*A closer look at vouchers
*Corruption and segregation
*Shifting landscape

Even in a world where facts matter less, it is possible to help people become aware of what they can lose in the ‘world of choice’.