Florida Supreme Court Rules Against Public Schools

My take on Friday’s Supreme Court decision on the Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit.

Article IX of Florida’s constitution, ratified voters in 1998, called for the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children to have a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools…. In 2009, the Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit began its arduous journey to the Florida Supreme Court. The plaintiffs had argued that Florida’s choice system failed its constitutional mandate. In one example, the plaintiffs cited data showing “one million Florida minority students (1/2 of all students), moreover, do not read at grade level”.

The defense defined educational quality as ‘continuous progress’. Thus, in the state’s view, if test scores go up, the system is working. NAEP was the standard used to show improvement. There has been improvement in Florida’s NAEP scores over the past twenty years. The state claimed that the improvement in achievement was attributed to the quality of teachers and administrators and the pressure from school choice. The plaintiffs argued that improvement is fine, but the achievement is still low. Moreover, a high quality system gives access to all children, not just some.

At its core, the lawsuit was about adequate funding to meet children’s needs. If the plaintiffs had won the lawsuit, they would have asked for a cost study so that requirements would be aligned with resources. In the current choice system, funding to support charter and private schools drains needed resources from public schools. Florida’s per student funding is one of the lowest in the nation.

In January 2019, the Court in a contentious 4/3 split decision, rejected the claims of the plaintiff. The majority opinion of the court was that the terms ‘high quality’ and ‘efficient’ are ambiguous and do not create judiciable standards. Education policy and funding are in the domain of the legislature, not the judicial system. Chief Justice Canady said: the plaintiffs “failed to provide any manageable standard by which to avoid judicial intrusion into other branches of government”. The minority opinions stated that the majority opinion “eviscerates the 1998 opinion…only time will truly reveal the depth of the injury inflicted upon Florida’s children”.

What is the correct basis for the legal argument? is it a rational basis or must the state comply with specific requirements to provide a high quality education? A Wikipedia explanation stated that it is easier to define a rational basis by what it is not. It is not a genuine effort…to inquire whether a statute does in fact further a legitimate end of government. I found a quote attributed to Thurgood Marshall…the constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws. The case may have hinged on the interpretation of the legal basis of the case. It reminds me of a saying I have heard often: Is it close enough for government work or do we have to get it right?

Where do Florida citizens go next to garner support for the education of their children?

Supreme Court Rules Against Citizens for Strong Schools

Chief Justice Canady ruled that the ten year long lawsuit brought by the Citizens for Strong Schools is over. Canady declared in his opinion that the legislature, not the judiciary, is responsible for education policy and funding. In a 4/3 divided opinion, the quality of Florida’s education system is now in the voters’ hands. If changes in the funding and school choice policies are to be made, the voters must send people who favor those changes to Tallahassee.

And Yet Another Scandal

The attorney for Florida’s online K12 school resigned after 18 years. Now, it is clear why. Frank Druppenbacher has been accused of using FVS employees for his own private businesses. He also has a problem speaking in a respectful way to women..’boorish and gender based comments’ are the words used to describe his behavior.

This Really is Scary: Aviation Charter School Fraud

The Osceola County school board voted to close the Aviation Charter school that is training 111 student pilots. The reason: falsifying student records, double billing the state, and belittling students. The charter school will appeal the decision. This is really hard to think about. The school board is doing its part by shutting down the charter. Will the State Board of Education do its?

School Discipline Policies: Helpful, Hurtful, Both?

Do out-of-school suspensions help or hurt school climate? Are student discipline problems getting worse or better? Betsy DeVos has eliminated the Obama era policies of federal oversight of discipline policies that may impact some student groups more than others. She charges that the Obama policies that are intended to reduce inequitable discipline practices have made problems worse. When teachers are afraid to refer students to the principal, and schools are afraid to suspend students acting in a dangerous way, are school classrooms becoming a ‘free for all zone’? Some teachers may think so. Others claim that minority students are often subjected to harsher penalties than white students for the same offenses. Suspending students, moreover, may simply make student problems worse. It is a conundrum.

There is a report: School-safety that addresses these concerns and the need for more attention to factors within and outside of schools that impact student safety. There are best practices identified from which states and local district are urged to select those that fit their circumstances.

One has to wonder if this data driven educational system based on student test scores and a ‘test and punish’ mentality is also at fault. Students’ schools are labeled as failing or near failing; so are the students themselves. Even students who are achieving at grade level may feel alienated when they do not qualify for a particular magnet program or other selective program. Students feeling tense, left out, and inadequate may well act out.

Some parents opt out of local schools only to find that they enter into a separate system of schools where take it or leave it policies prevail. What they are forced to put up with in many charter and private schools has little to do with student achievement. Discipline and discrimination, moreover, may be even more rigid and arbitrary. These schools have everything to do with which kids get in, which do not and who gets kicked out. There is a better way, a more equitable way, where students and parents from diverse backgrounds feel a sense of belonging. These schools exist. How can we create more of them?

VAM Hits Good Teachers Hard

Six teachers with good overall teacher evaluations must be transferred from Greco Middle School in Hillsborough. The school has had a ‘D’ grade for two years. It is one of those HB7069 things. Teachers at the school whose value added (VAM) scores for their students were not high enough were targeted by the State of Florida. How can this happen? The Florida Department of Education website says that VAM scores are not mandatory….or are they?

Check out the State Board of Education rules for low performing schools. Even though teachers may be rated as effective or highly effective using the district evaluation systems (that also must include student achievement growth measures), if their students’ achievement gain scores are below what similar students across the state gain based on the state VAM scores alone, those teachers must be removed from the school.

What are these VAM scores? They indicate the growth of student achievement scores on the English Language Arts and Math scores from grades 4 through 8, plus Algebra I. Three year average scores of all students in the state are calculated and adjusted by differences in school characteristics and student performance. Average scores for similar groups of students and schools statewide are compared to each teacher’s student scores. These VAM scores are calculated for about one third of Florida’s teachers. Evaluations for the other teachers must include some measure of student growth, either VAM or other locally determined measures of achievement. Local districts determine how best to evaluate their teachers.

The outcry by the American Statistical Association and others that VAM scores alone are not a valid measure of teacher effectiveness was heard in Tallahassee. VAM scores use became optional for district teacher evaluations even though they must include some measures of student progress. Maybe the State Board of Education was not listening. They still make decisions about teachers’ futures based on invalid VAM scores. Let me give you an example of how unfair this is. A teacher here was removed from a low performing school who had an ‘highly effective’ rating. Her ‘mistake’ was to take over a classroom mid year when the district had been unable to fill an empty slot created by the illness of the assigned teacher. The class had several long term substitute teachers….not good for anyone whether teacher or student. The class did not score well on the state assessment. The good teacher who stepped in to help was blamed. We may see more of these cases as the teacher shortage increases.

NPE: Five Reasons Why Charters Can Not Be Reformed

Some charters are innovative and productive; most are not. Why not? Here are five reasons why Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris believe that no reform of the ‘charter system’ will work. I have listed the reasons below, and you can read the rationale for these inherent flaws in the charter school system here. It’s good to have the five points at your fingertips as you talk about your concerns about school privatization.

  1. Freedom from regulation and oversight through public governance has resulted in persistence and undeniable patterns of waste and fraud.
  2. Defacto discrimination is baked into the charter school model.
  3. Charter schools bleed money from the public school system, which results in either a lesser education for public school students or an extra burden on tax payers.
  4. Charter schools eliminate democracy from school governance, and this lack of voice is most acutely felt by parents in disadvantaged communities.
  5. Loose laws around conflict of interest combined with a lack of transparency regarding spending have provided a fertile ground for profiteers and grifters.

The Ban the Book Brigade

Florida Citizen’s Alliance has an agenda to censor textbooks. Which books?
1. Anything with sexually explicit text e.g. Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’; LBGTBQ transgender themes e.g. ‘Being Homosexual’ by Richard Isay
2. U.S. History texts, World History, Understanding Economics and other books that are charged with issues such as having a ‘left bias, opposition to right to bear arms, failure to emphasize federalist vs. anti federalist conflicts, bias against supply side economics, and stating evolution as a settled fact.
3. Religious indoctrination e.g. books about Islam
4. Science e.g. books about environmental dangers such as global warming; Darwin’s Theory of Evolution that do not explicitly say that these are ‘theories, not facts’.
5. Common Core Math critical thinking, problem solving methods

The FCA is headed by Keith Flaugh who is part of the coalition centered around Erika and Byron Donalds and others who support the Christian conservative charter schools known as Classical Academies. They typically challenge text book adoptions at local school boards in Florida. They are included in the DeSantis education transition task force.

The Drum Beat Rolls On

Representative Byron Donalds was named Chair of the Florida House PreK-12 Education Quality subcommittee. Donalds is married to Erika Donalds from Collier County. She was the organizer of the alternative Florida school board association whose members represent charter school interest. She was also sponsor of portions of the Constitutional Revision Commission’s Amendment 8 to create an independent school system. Since that amendment was removed from the November ballot, forms of it will no doubt emerge from the upcoming legislative session. The Donalds also helped found a Classical Academy charter school and are starting another one. These charters focus on ‘Christian values’.