Archives for category: Florida

In this recent article, Jeff Bryant examines Florida’s shameful response to the pandemic. As usual, legislators and Governor DeSanris took advantage of the crisis to add another voucher program, which will drain another $200 million from public schools to support for woefully inadequate voucher schools.

He writes:


“The COVID-19 crisis reveals the true intentions of people,” Kathleen Oropeza told me during a phone call. Oropeza is a public school mom in Orlando and founder of Fund Education Now, a non-partisan grassroots effort to advocate for public education in Florida.

Her remark was in the context of concerns about how state officials were governing schools as the coronavirus was spreading across the state and generating fears of how the disease would affect schools and families.

Days after the first victims tested positive in the state and the first deaths were reported, Florida lawmakers in the House seemed oblivious to the impending crisis and instead passed new legislation to expand the state’s voucher program, thus diverting an additional $200 million from the state’s public schools.

The bill passed despite evidence that many of the private schools that would receive the voucher money openly discriminate against LGBTQ children and families, are not required to hire certified teachers, and generally provide a subpar education.

But there is a bright side to the current crisis:

The rash of canceled tests across the country caused some knowledgeable observers to speculate on Twitter that the testing industry would not be able to withstand the financial difficulties of a nationwide cancelation. But what is also in danger is the whole policy imperative of the market-based education agenda.

Much in the same way that widespread teacher walkouts and the Red for Ed movement over the past two years revealed the overwhelming need for government officials to increase funding and support for frontline teachers, the mounting fallout of school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing politicians and policymakers to acknowledge the importance of schools as vital community institutions that need resources and support rather than fiscal austerity, privatization, and punitive accountability—the pillars of the market-based education movement.

Even amidst the avalanche of reported school closings, advocates of the market-based approach were lamenting the failure of their decades-long efforts.

“Neither standards and accountability nor charter schools have lived up to their promoters’ lofty aspirations. And there is much public unhappiness with school reform,” wrote Kevin Carey in an analysis for the Washington Post. Carey, a policy analyst for a Washington, D.C., think tank that favored the education reform agenda, worked for years in policy shops that pushed market-based agendas.

Carey noted a rising political opposition to market-based education advocates from the right and the left, including Tea Party Republicans who object to Common Core Standards and federal overreach in local decision-making and among progressive Democrats who are angered by the unfairness and inequities caused by market-based solutions.

But while he asserted that “School reform began with the civil rights movement,” he completely ignored the econometric principles that ended up driving privatization policies rather than the moral values of human rights and justice that powered the civil rights movement. Market-based education advocates have long obsessed over rigid standards, outcome measures, and competition from charter schools rather than providing schools and students with what they really needed, especially in communities that rely heavily on schools as anchor institutions.

Will elected officials and think tank analysts recognize the failure of standards, testing,
accountability, competition, and market-based policies to close achievement gaps, to reduce poverty, to lift up the neediest students, and to achieve any of their alleged goals?

Please: would the “reformers” acknowledge the failure of their prescriptions and stop claiming, without a shred of evidence, that annual standardized testing is a “civil right,” when it is actually stigmatizing children who are repeatedly labeled as “failures” by the testing indistry?

The Florida House passed a bill to protect “parents’ rights” against decisions by the school system.

The House advanced sweeping, if aspirational, legislation codifying a parent’s “bill of rights” on Monday. The vote in favor was 77-41.

The House version (CS/HB 1059), sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall, now includes a technical amendment that reaffirmed parental rights to any type of school (public, private, and even home schooling).

Another Grall amendment vouchsafed parental rights to spike objectionable instructional material “based on beliefs regarding morality, sex, and religion or the belief that such materials are harmful.”

The amendments offered reassured some Democratic critics of the bill, but not enough to earn their votes.

Parents already have the right to home school or send their children to private schools.

This bill would give parents the right to “protect” their children from topics that are objectionable to their religious beliefs in class, such as sex education.

The bill’s gist: that state or other governments would not be allowed to limit a parent’s right to direct the moral and religious upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of his or her child.

The bill permits opt-outs for students on issues ranging from sex education to vaccination. As well, explicit consent for medical care and data collection for students in a school setting is included in the bill.

Some Democrats thought that the emphasis should be on children’s rights.

Although it is not mentioned in the article, many states expect teachers to report signs of physical abuse, but if parents believe they have the right to beat their children, the parents’ right would be paramount. Why should the teachers have the “right” to report such abuse to authorities?

If parents don’t want their child to be taught by a teacher whose religion is different from their parents, can they switch teachers nor be excused from those lessons as well as any test questions based on those lessons? If parents object to evolution on religious grounds, may they be excused from biology classes that might include any reference to evolution?

If parents object to their child learning about certain episodes in history (suppose the parent is a Holocaust denier or objects to teaching about slavery or genocide), may their child be excused from those classes, as well as any tests about those objectionable subjects? If they are Turkish and oppose any teaching of the “Armenian genocide,” may their children be shielded from those lessons?

You can think of many topics that might be offensive to parents. Do parents have the right to censor the curriculum to protect their child and exercise “parental rights”? This is not a hypothetical question. There have been numerous instances where parental objections have led to certain books being taken out of the curriculum and even removed from school libraries. (With the increasing disappearance of school libraries, this is less of an issue than it used to be.)

On January 23, the Orlando Sentinel published an investigative report that nearly 160 religious schools receiving public money for vouchers openly discriminated against LGBT students, families, and staff.

The Florida House just rejected a bill to make such discrimination in publicly funded schools illegal. To make it plain, the Florida House sent a message to religious schools that it is just fine to discriminate against gay students, families, and staff.

Leslie Postal and Annie Martin wrote:

The Florida House voted down a proposal to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ students in the state’s school voucher programs Friday as it moved to expand the number of state-financed scholarships available to send youngsters to private schools.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, urged his colleagues to “tackle the issue of LGBTQ discrimination,” with him and some other Democrats arguing private schools that take Florida scholarships shouldn’t be able to ban gay students any more than they could ban students based on their race.

But the measure was defeated in the Republican-controlled House, and Smith said he doubted he had any other legislative avenues to pursue the issue this year.

This will not disturb Secretary of Educatuon DeVos. Her family foundation has given large donations to anti-gay groups for years (e.g., the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family).

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.