Archives for category: Florida

About 30 public schools in Broward County may close due to loss of students to charter schools.

The original purpose of charter schools was to collaborate with public schools, not to destroy them. Unfortunately, the charter industry is so well represented in the legislature that they have a distinctive edge over real public schools. The wife of the State Commissiomer of Educatuon Richard Corcoran runs a charter school.

About 30 Broward schools could close, combine with other schools or convert into a new type of facility as the school district looks for ways to deal with nearly half-empty campuses.

Many of these schools are in the southern part of the county, from Hollywood to Pembroke Pines, where thousands of students have left for charter schools. Others are in the Fort Lauderdale area and have struggled with factors such as low student performance, outdated facilities and aging neighborhoods…

Enrollment has dropped about 30,000 in the past 15 years, due mostly to charter schools and to a smaller degree private school vouchers. The demographics also have changed in Broward, where most growth is among adults without school-aged kids….

Broward considers a school to have insufficient enrollment if it has 70% percent or fewer students than it was built to serve. Many of these schools aren’t able to afford an art, music or physical education teacher or a media specialist to run the library. Several didn’t get musical instruments through the $800 million bond because they can’t afford to teach music.

Nearby charter schools are eagerly eying the buildings that might become available.

 

Many researchers were amazed to see that the state of Mississippi had a sharp growth in its fourth-grade reading scores.

Fortunately, the far-right Thomas B. Fordham Institute reveals how this happened.

The surest path to success in fourth-grade reading on NAEP is to hold back third-graders who did not pass the third-grade reading test. It works! It increased Florida’s fourth-grade reading scores. And it worked for Mississippi too! You have to give credit where it is due: Jeb Bush thought up this way to artificially inflate Florida’s NAEP standing. Research has consistently shown that kids who are held back are likelier to drop out of school later, but who cares about them? The scores and ratings are everything! Mississippi holds back a higher percentage of third-graders than any other state. How about those numbers!

One of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary 2019 NAEP report is Mississippi. A long-time cellar dweller in the NAEP rankings, Mississippi students have risen faster than anyone since 2013, particularly for fourth graders. In fourth grade reading results, Mississippi boosted its ranking from forty-ninth in 2013 to twenty-ninth in 2019; in math, they zoomed from fiftieth to twenty-third. Adjusted for demographics, Mississippi now ranks near the top in fourth grade reading and math according to the Urban Institute’s America’s Gradebook report.

So how have they done it? Education commentators have pointed to several possible causes: roll-out of early literacy programs and professional development (Cowen & Forte), faithful implementation of Common Core standards (Petrilli), and focus on the “science of reading” (State Superintendent Carey Wright).

But one key part of Mississippi’s formula has gotten less coverage: holding back low-performing students. In response to the legislature’s 2013 Literacy Based Promotion Act (LBPA), Mississippi schools retain a higher percentage of K–3 students than any other state. (Mississippi-based Bracey Harris of The Hechinger Report is one education writer who has reported on this topic.)

The LBPA created a “third grade gate,” making success on the reading exit exam a requirement for fourth grade promotion. This isn’t a new idea of course. Florida is widely credited with starting the trend in 2003, and now sixteen states plus the District of Columbia have a reading proficiency requirement to pass into fourth grade.

But Mississippi has taken the concept further than others, with a retention rate higher than any other state. In 2018–19, according to state department of education reports, 8 percent of all Mississippi K–3 students were held back (up from 6.6 percent the prior year). This implies that over the four grades, as many as 32 percent of all Mississippi students are held back; a more reasonable estimate is closer to 20 to 25 percent, allowing for some to be held back twice. (Mississippi’s Department of Education does not report how many students are retained more than once.)

Just goes to show: If at first you don’t succeed, fake it.

 

 

The young people of Florida offer hope.

Watch this!

‪Les Misérables Flash Mob – Orlando Shakespeare Theater https://youtu.be/Cn8PiqIXEjQ via @YouTube‬

The Orlando Sentinel surveyed Florida’s voucher schools and found that nearly 160 of them openly discriminate against LGBT students, families, and staff. Democratic legislators object and have been meeting with the head of the state’s Step Up for Students, which transfers hundreds of millions of dollars (that would otherwise go to the state as taxes ) to voucher schools. Some major corporations have said they would no longer contribute to the program (in lieu of taxes), which undoubtedly encourages Step Up to talk.

Republican legislators indicate that anti-LGBT policies are not a problem for them.

Such bias is certainly not a problem for Betsy DeVos, whose family foundation has supported anti-gay causes for many years.

And it’s probably okay with the Supreme Court, which ruled that discrimination against a gay couple was acceptable if based on a sincere religious conviction. As you will see if you open the story, these evangelical schools sincerely and passionately detest gay people.

Which other groups is it okay to hate while funded by public dollars?

Andre Agassi entered the charter school industry in Las Vegas, where he opened his own charter school. After many setbacks and high staff turnover, his school landed on the state’s list of low-performing schools and was turned over to another charter operator. Agassi decided he was in the wrong end of the business.

Agassi joined a partnership with an investor to build charter schools, and they struck gold.

Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities sold the Franklin Academy at 5000 Southwest 207th Terrace in Pembroke Pines for $60.5 million to Erudite Properties, led by Scott Sznitken, Executive Director of Florida Charter Foundation, records show…

Turner-Agassi bought the property in 2015 for $10.1 million. The K-12 school was constructed in 2016. In total, the campus spans 40 acres, according to its website.

Turner-Agassi’s strategy is to act as a “bridge developer” for charter schools, fronting the cost for site selection and construction and then leasing the property to a charter school operator. The group then sells the property to the charter operator once it reaches its enrollment goal, according to Turner-Agassi’s website.

The strategy has proven successful in the past. In 2016, Turner-Agassi sold a Boynton Beach charter school for $22.3 million. The same year it also sold Franklin Academy in Cooper City for $20 million.

Turner-Agassi has developed 96 schools serving 48,976 students across the country. The fund plans to invest an additional $500 million to develop 65 more schools serving another 25,000 students, according to its website.

A free press makes a difference. Here is proof.

On January 23, Leslie Postal and Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel wrote that nearly 160 religious schools receiving vouchers from the state of Florida openly discriminate against students, families, and staff who are gay. Voucher schools drain $1 billion away from public education every year in Florida, and state legislators want to expand vouchers until they are available to every student in the state.

The next day, opinion writer Scott Maxwell of the same newspaper wrote more about public-funded religious  schools rejecting students and families. He wrote:

One school told a mother — a firefighter married to U.S. Air Force veteran — that her children were unfit to be educated there simply because the couple was two women.

The two women served their country and community. But the school — which received $371,000 in state scholarship money last year — told the family to get an education elsewhere.

On January 28, the Orlando Sentinel wrote an editorial criticizing the major corporations that declare their opposition to discrimination yet have poured millions into support of Florida’s discriminatory voucher program. Ouch! Profits or principles? The editorial writer reviewed the list of major corporations that support the voucher programs while declaring their opposition to bias.

The first corporation that announced it would no longer subsidize bigotry was Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank.

Then Wells Fargo dropped out.

Valerie Strauss wrote about the defections here.

Others have pulled out, including Wyndham Hotels, Allegiant Airlines and Rosen Hotels. Most corporations don’t stop and think and realize that every dollar that goes to an unregulated, unaccountable religious school is taken away from the state’s underfunded public schools. 

There may be other defectors. The defections may only be temporary.

Vouchers open the way to a slippery slope.

The Supreme Court may decide, if asked, that a school may ban the child of gay parents if its religious beliefs dictate the child’s exclusion. After all, it previously decided, with its two Trump appointees, that a baker could refuse to sell his cake to a gay couple.

That’s what Betsy DeVos has spent her life advancing: a world in which one’s religious beliefs trump others’ civil rights.

Today the target is gays. Who will it be next time? African-Americans? Jews? Muslims?

 

 

 

 

 

The first stop on my national book tour was Books and Books, a wonderful old-fashioned independent bookstore in Coral Gables in Florida. I talked with Mitchell Kaplan, the owner, who is determined to keep the literary life alive.

This is our discussion.

After the podcast, I met with the leadership of the United Teachers of Dade County. My presentation at the store was moderated by Karla Hernandez-Mats, the leader of the union and a dynamo.

The Republican legislature is hostile to public schools and would like every child to have a voucher to attend a religious school.

 

In 2017, the Orlando Sentinel published a powerful three-part series about unregulated and unaccountable voucher schools in Florida, called “Schools Without Rules.” In Florida, voucher schools receive $1 billion each year of taxpayer funding.

In 2018, the Orlando Sentinel published an article about the textbook companies that supply teaching materials to voucher schools and homeschoolers. Their books incorporate religious values into their content.

Prominent among them is the ABeka company in Florida.

Their textbooks reflect a religious approach to science, history, and other subjects.

The Orlando Sentinel wrote:

One of the largest suppliers of materials for private schools and home-school students across the United States is affiliated with a small Christian college in the Florida Panhandle.

Abeka, formerly known as A Beka Book, is named for Beka Horton, who along with her husband, Arlin, founded a small Christian school in 1954 and Pensacola Christian College in 1974…

Today, Abeka Academy Inc. takes in $45.6 million in revenue — $6 million less than its reported expenses of $51 million — according to the nonprofit’s tax documents for the financial year that ended May 2017.

Abeka, along with the Bob Jones University-affiliated BJU Press and Accelerated Christian Education Inc., is among the most popular curricula used by Christian schools that take part in Florida’s $1 billion voucher program, which pays for children from low-income families or those with special needs to attend private schools.

Though the Hortons retired from the college in 2012, Abeka carries on the couple’s legacy of what it calls a “Biblical perspective.”

For example, the company describes its teachings in the subject of history this way: “We present government as ordained by God for the maintenance of law and order, not as a cure-all for humanity’s problems. We present free-enterprise economics without apology and point out the dangers of Communism, socialism, and liberalism to the well-being of people across the globe. In short, Abeka offers a traditional, conservative approach to the study of what man has done with the time God has given him.”

The Orlando Sentinel described the curriculum in Christian schools that are funded by taxpayer dollars:

Some private schools in Florida that rely on public funding teach students that dinosaurs and humans lived together, that God’s intervention prevented Catholics from dominating North America and that slaves who “knew Christ” were better off than free men who did not.

The lessons taught at these schools come from three Christian publishing companies whose textbooks are popular on many of about 2,000 campuses that accept, and often depend on, nearly $1 billion in state scholarships, or vouchers.

At the Orlando Sentinel’s request, educators from Florida colleges and school districts reviewed textbooks and workbooks from these publishers, looking at elementary reading and math, middle school social studies and high school biology materials.

They found numerous instances of distorted history and science lessons that are outside mainstream academics. The books denounce evolution as untrue, for example, and one shows a cartoon of men and dinosaurs together, telling students the Biblical Noah likely brought baby dinosaurs onto his ark. The science books, they added, seem to discourage students from doing experiments or even asking questions.
“Students who have learned science in this kind of environment are not prepared for college experiences,” said Cynthia Bayer, a biology lecturer at the University of Central Florida who reviewed the science books. “They would be intellectually disadvantaged.”

The social studies books downplay the horrors of slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans, they said. One book, in its brief section on the civil rights movement, said that “most black and white southerners had long lived together in harmony” and that “power-hungry individuals stirred up the people.”

The books are rife with religious and political opinions on topics such as abortion, gay rights and the Endangered Species Act, which one labels a “radical social agenda.” They disparage religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures other than those descended from white Europeans. Experts said that was particularly worrisome given that about 60 percent of scholarship students are black or Hispanic.

The newspaper story contains illustrations that appear in the textbooks, showing humans and dinosaurs co-existing.

Page from a high school biology workbook
Page from a high school biology workbook (ACE)

Leslie Postal and Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel identified nearly 160 religious schools that receive state funding but exclude gay students.

Some refuse to enroll students whose parents are gay or hire gay staff.

Discrimination is A-OK at these schools.

This would not be a problem for Betsy DeVos, whose family has contributed to anti-gay organizations for years. It would not be a problem for the current a Supreme Court, which ruled that a baker in Colorado need not sell  a cake to a gay couple if homosexuality offends his religious beliefs.

Postal and Martin wrote:

In the shadow of a nearly 200-foot cross, Central Florida Christian Academy enrolls students who live by the Bible’s commands and abstain from “sexual immorality” — meaning gay children aren’t welcome on the state-supported campus in west Orange County.

Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater denies admission to students if they, or someone in their home, are practicing a “homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity” or “promoting such practices.”

Wade Christian School in Melbourne keeps an “expulsion list,” with a “homosexual act” among the offenses, alongside bringing weapons to campus, distributing drugs and striking a staff member.

In Florida last year, 156 private Christian schools with these types of anti-gay views educated more than 20,800 students with tuition paid for by state scholarships, an Orlando Sentinel investigation found.

Florida’s scholarship programs, often referred to as school vouchers, sent more than $129 million to these religious institutions. That means at least 14 percent of Florida’s nearly 147,000 scholarship students last year attended private schools where homosexuality was condemned or, at a minimum, unwelcome.

Step by step, the Trump administration, Red states, and the Supreme Court are denying any civil rights to gay people.

State auditors are questioning whether two charter schools in Broward County had any students at all and are proposing that the schools repay the state $5.5 million.

Two charter schools in Broward County failed to adequately prove students attended during the 2017-18 school year and should repay a combined $5.5 million, the state Auditor General report says.

The report, released in late December, questions the student counts at Innovation Charter School in Pompano Beach and Imagine Charter in Weston. Officials at the two schools say they can verify their enrollments and plan to appeal to the state Department of Education, which will make the final decision.

If the department agrees with the audit, the schools would lose roughly an entire year’s budget: $1.6 million for Innovations and $3.9 million for Imagine. The Broward school district, which is responsible for dispersing state money to the schools, could withhold monthly allocations until the money is repaid. If the schools close, the district could get stuck with the bill.

“The district has met with the governing boards of the charter schools with respect to their plans to appeal these … findings and is prepared to assist them during their discussions” with the education department, said a statement from Chief Communications Officer Kathy Koch’s office.

The auditors reviewed records from October and February of the 2017-18 school year; those are the two months when official counts are taken to see how much money schools should receive.

The report said Imagine could not adequately prove that its 948 students actually attended the school and Innovation couldn’t prove that its 386 kids were actually there.

Auditors can be so darned picky. Who ever heard of schools without students?