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To Educate and Inform on Issues Relating to Public Education

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Our blog is a tool box. Make it work for you. Here you will find data, studies, and perspectives that inform the discussion about school choice. Send stories of events in your state. Tell us about studies that clarify issues. Do your own studies. Use the information you find here to advocate for League positions.

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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.

Disappearing Dollars in Florida: Still Asleep at the Wheel

The Network for Public Education’s (NPE) latest report Still Asleep at the Wheel gives a state by state listing of charters that received federal dollars and pocketed the money. These charters either never opened or shortly closed after opening. In Florida, $33,896,485 in federal start up money for 187 charters was lost between 2006-2014. This amounts to 37% of all federal funding to start charters in Florida. You can see Florida’s list of charters that received funds but did not open or quickly closed here.

During this same period, approximately $500 million was lost nationwide. Curiously, nationwide between 1995-2005, an additional $500 million cannot be accounted for at all. No records exist for which charters received this funding. It is a lot of money to just disappear.

The Achievement Gap Discussion We Seldom Have

How we see ourselves has so much to do with our willingness to dream. All the hoopla about various forms of equity fall short if children feel hope does not apply to them. What may make a real difference to children is the sense that they belong to a successful group. School grades, however, create winners and losers. Take away school grades and it becomes possible to have real integration, not only by race and economic class but also by academic achievement. Unfortunately, with school grades, ‘A’ school parents are worried their children might suffer if lower achieving students enroll. The ‘A’ grade will fall even if their children have the same courses and teachers.

Richard Rothstein studies this issue. In an article published by the Economic Policy Institute entitled Revived Debate Over School Busing Highlights Deepening Racial Segregation, Rothstein begins with Kamala Harris’ statement in the presidential debate: “That child was me”. She is now running for president, and she was bused to school as a child. Is there a causal link? Read Rothstein’s article. How we see ourselves has so much to do with our own notion of what we can and cannot do.

My school district has passed a large facilities building program. It has instituted a strong equity program. Will it also consider alternative routes to achieve a better racial and economic balance in our schools? Housing patterns make this difficult but not impossible. Real change in achievement takes a commitment to a sense of belonging for all children. It is a difficult road, but maybe the best goal over the long run.

Florida Pension Plan Shortfall

There are rumblings that the 2020 Florida Legislature may revise funding for the Florida Pension Plan.   There is no question that the retirement system revenue has declined; it has not been 100% funded since the 2008 recession. The current rate is about 84% of the cost if all people retired at one time. Of course that is an unlikely scenario, but there are now more people vested in the system than are contributing to it. One million public employees participate in the system, about half are teachers and the others are local and state government employees. As retirees increase and new participants decrease, covering costs becomes more problematic.

While there is no immediate crisis, the problems cannot be ignored in the longer run. There are four basic reasons why the funding has declined:

  1. Expectations that the stock market will do well are not always met. Average earnings across years are about 1% below expectations.
  2. The state is not making sufficient employer contributions to the retirement system.
  3. How the state calculates the value of promised retirement benefits increases risk and makes real debt larger.
  4. The switch to 401(k) accounts in 2017 did not require sufficient contributions from employees and employers to cover costs. It may benefit new teachers who leave the profession but not the profession as a whole.

Pensions are not the problem..The real question as always is whether funding pensions is mostly a political, not a financial issue.  The National Association of State Retirement Administrators cited a report stating that an 80% funding level is the federal benchmark for financial stability of state pension systems.  Florida’s level exceeds that benchmark. Nevertheless, there is a political divide over providing pensions, and it is closely tied to those supporting school privatization.  Florida charters and private schools typically do not contribute to retirement systems, and the resulting high teacher turnover keeps salaries lower.   Thus, there is more money available for management companies in the private sector.   This is not a recipe for a high quality educational system.

This issue may have a strong impact on the growing teacher shortage. Pensions help retain teachers.  Kentucky’s teachers’ complaints about pension revision strategies were partially responsible for the recent defeat of their governor.  Yet, there are those who advocate replacing teachers with technology.  The motivations of those who attack the teaching profession whether they are political or financial in origin, need to be considered.

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