The purpose of this column is to provide a brief summary for Florida parents regarding the failure of the spectrum of so-called education “reforms” introduced and advanced by former Governor Jeb Bush (1999 – 2007).
I have written this brief, two-page “talking points” Word doc to complement the contents of this post. Thus, parents can use the “talking points” as a quick reference in school board meetings and legislative hearings and use the contents of this post for a more detailed explanation of the talking points (complete with links to references supporting each point).
In this post, I address the spectrum of Florida education “reform,” including school letter grades; graduation rates; charters, vouchers, and virtual schools; teacher evaluation; third-grade retention, and “declaring” Florida high school graduates as “college ready.”
A – F School Letter Grades
A major problem with the school letter grades is their susceptibility to manipulation. In fact, former Florida Superintendent Tony Bennett was forced to resign in August 2013 after emails implicated him in fixing a charter school letter grade during his time as superintendent in Indiana.
Letter grade formulas are also endlessly manipulated. Politico notes, “In Florida, for instance, the legislature has tinkered with the A-F school grading formula at least two dozen times in recent years. … Last year, alarmed that so many Florida students failed a new writing exam, the state board of education quickly lowered the passing score to boost more kids over the bar.”
A letter grade system that changes from year to year is useless. The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) tries to promote school letter grade changes as good and also presents information on “improvement” based on their ever-changing letter grade calculations, but don’t let them fool you. Tell them that you know school letter grade comparisons are meaningless unless tests, and scoring, and all other parts of the formula (including student information) are kept exactly the same from year to year.
In 2012, FDOE botched its school letter grade calculations for 213 schools and had to correct them following publication.
Florida’s graduation rate has been among the lowest for years. In 2001-02, Florida’s graduation rate was among the bottom five states. In 2010-11, it was among the bottom seven (three states did not have rates calculated).
The 2010-11 calculation is a better measure for state-to-state comparison since the 2001-02 rate was not calculated uniformly for all states.
For 2012-13, Florida reports its overall graduation rate as 75.6%, up from 70.6% in 2010-11. This article attributes the rise in Florida school district graduation rates– which varies widely from district to district– to an emphasis on college preparedness–and the ACT test. Yet Florida was in the bottom six states for its average ACT score of 19.8 in 2012.
Based upon the unstable, ever-changing Florida school letter grade system, Bush-favored charters are not faring well. In 2012, more Florida charters scored A’s– and more scored F’s. (This article includes a caveat regarding FDOE’s having to correct 213 school grades that it incorrectly calculated. When calculation formulas are constantly changing, errors in calculation are much more likely.)
FDOE does not properly regulate Florida charter schools. The USDOE was informed of Florida’s lack of charter oversight in this September 2012 audit. One result of this lack of proper oversight is this story of a Florida charter school that paid its principal of only 180 students $519,000 after the school was slated to close and paid her husband $460,000.
Lack of charter accountability before the public coupled with the ability to manipulate school letter grades enabled Former Florida Superintendent Tony Bennett to change an Indiana charter school’s letter grade– a charter founded by someone who donated millions to Republicans– including $130,000 to Bennett.
As is true for Florida charters, Florida vouchers also lack proper oversight. One Florida voucher program, the McKay Scholarship Program, supposedly provides vouchers for special needs students. However, McKay schools have no curriculum requirements and no accreditation standards. Thus, there is zero accountability for those teaching Florida students receiving McKay Scholarship money.
Florida also has a tax credit voucher program known as the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program, in which businesses donate money to send lower-income students to private schools in exchange for tax credits. The use of tax credits is a “back door” means to paying public money for students to attend private schools.
There is a current legislative push for Florida sales tax revenue to bypass the state and to be sent directly to “scholarship organizations.” Again, this is an underhanded way to use public money to finance private school education in Florida.
The final flaw regarding Florida voucher “success” is that no means exists for evaluating the effectiveness of Florida vouchers. Florida legislators wish to expand the corporate tax credit voucher program. Only one– Florida Senate President Don Gaetz– is pushing for voucher school accountability.
Lack of proper oversight is the common theme for Bush-promoted “alternative learning” in the form of charters, vouchers, and now, virtual schools. One for-profit virtual learning company in Florida, K 12, was investigated in 2012 for a cover-up regarding its using uncertified teachers and having certified teachers sign for uncertified teachers’ class rosters– which made it appear that some teachers had classes of up to 275 students.
The quality of education via virtual schools (also known as online schools or cyber charters) is highly suspect. Oversight is definitely needed.
Evaluating teachers using student test scores (known as “value added modeling,” or VAM) does not work. Directly attributing “pieces” of student learning to specific teachers in specific classrooms via student test scores is a mathematical impossibility– this shows up in huge “margins of error” for teacher scores. (The margins of error for many Florida teacher VAM scores is so large that it is like saying, “We think the bullet hit the bullseye; however, it could have completely missed the target.”)
Moreover, in 2012– the same year that FDOE botched school letter grade calculations– FDOE miscalculated its teacher evaluations. FDOE had to retract the information only hours following its release.
In 2014, FDOE “flunked” a number of its Teacher of the Year winners and finalists using VAM. This is what happens when professional contribution and quality human interaction are replaced by numbers input into a mathematical formula: Common-sense-defying foolishness.
Third Grade Retention
Jeb Bush tried to erase social promotion in the third grade by holding back number of third graders. It did not work. Instead, Florida ended up failing a disproportionate number of minority students. Having these students repeat third grade offered the illusion of testing gains for fourth graders taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). (Third graders do not take NAEP.) In short, if more lower-performing students are kept out of fourth grade, then the resulting fourth-grade NAEP score improvement is misleading.
Read here about parents’ rights to exempt children from mandatory retention in Florida. Unfortunately, some students must be retained for two years until retention is determined to be itself a failure.
Hiding Bush’s Failure: The “College Ready” Declaration
In 2013, the Florida legislature passed a bill that declares high school graduates as “college ready” and places all in for-credit college courses. In doing so, the legislature has decided that ignoring a problem will make it disappear. What such legislation allows Florida to do is to state publicly that all of its graduates are “college ready”– whether they really are or not.
The point of such “college ready” legislation is to absolve Florida policy makers (including former Governor Jeb Bush himself) from any responsibility associated with their numerous decisions regarding the ever-changing school letter grades– or lack of accountability for Florida charters, vouchers, and online schools– or inaccurate, damaging teacher evaluation policies– or arguably-abusive retention legislation. After all, it certainly would make the failure of the Jeb-Bush-promoted Florida education reform “miracle” obvious if Florida graduates required remedial coursework in order to enter college.
In Closing: Accountability Needed
Florida legislators and other officials in positions of authority need to be held accountable for their decisions regarding the education of Florida’s public school students. My intention in writing this post (and the attached talking-point Word doc) is to equip Florida parents to do just that.
The Jeb Bush Florida Education “Miracle” is a sham, Florida parents. Tell all who will listen that you know so. Hold Florida’s elected officials accountable for what they are inflicting upon your children.