Today Jeb Bush is visiting the Missouri capital to share his “education wisdom” with our lawmakers. And why not? Florida is doing great. Secretary Devos said everyone should emulate Florida. They have lots of charter schools and require that every child be able to read by third grade. Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education has been saying that things are just peachy in Florida since the former Governor’s plans have been put in place. I wonder, however, if he will bring up these issues.

Charter school expansion has led to a class of hidden drop outs.

A Propublica Investigation  revealed a practice in Florida (and to be fair in other states as well) where students who were struggling academically or had behavioral issues were encouraged to attend alternative (read charter) schools. This skews the test scores and graduation rates upwards at the home school without them having to change anything like teachers or curriculum. Choice advocates don’t like to acknowledge this popular abuse of the system. No one talks about the fact that these choice students often ended up in places which merely warehoused them for the day. The Propublica investigation found at one charter school:

“[A]lternative classes are sometimes taught in crumbling buildings, school basements, trailers and strip malls. Some lack textbooks and, in many, students sit in front of computers all day instead of engaging with teachers.

Students sit for four hours a day in front of computers with little or no live teaching. One former student said he was left to himself to goof off or cheat on tests by looking up answers on the internet. A current student said he was robbed near the strip mall’s parking lot, twice.

Public policy intended to help actually has the opposite effect. More from Propublica.

Barbara Fedders, a law professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said alternative schools too frequently fail to halt students’ downward trajectory, simply isolating them, instead.

Rather than lifting the performance of marginal students, alternative schools serve too often as way stations for future dropouts. While just 6 percent of regular schools have graduation rates below 50 percent, our analysis found nearly half of alternative schools do.

Using technology to deliver individualized education, going at your own pace,  leaves some charter students behind, not ahead.

As previously mentioned, charter schools like to take advantage of on-line learning opportunities and market this as individualized education, often claiming that this will allow students to graduate sooner and enter the workforce or college ahead of their peers. The reality is that students shunted to these schools were already having trouble getting their work done, and that was with the support of a live teacher.

“You go in there with bad habits and you’re already going ‘at your own pace,’” said Mello, who graduated from a regular high school in Texas and now works as a mechanic in a suburb of Dallas. “It doesn’t work like it’s intended to work.”

Charter school expansion has led to increased violence in public schools.

By moving the most problematic students out of the home public school, charters become concentrated centers for students with behavior and emotional problems.  The situation is so bad, one group started a website called Failure Factories where they highlight the challenges of 31 students who attend dysfunctional violent schools in Florida. Their stories are heart wrenching.

At the drop-off area, kids already are punching and kicking each other. Parents are leaving their cars to break up brawls. The violence spills inside, to the hallways and classrooms, where these children know they can be attacked for no reason.

Ten minutes into her first day at Campbell Park Elementary, Salimah Bullock got a special kind of orientation.

“Tell me your name — or I’ll punch you in the face,” a male classmate told her.

Salimah, a quiet girl who loves drawing kittens and anything pink, was stunned into silence.

The boy swung.

Throughout the 2013-14 school year, when Salimah was in the second grade, she was constantly bullied.

“They cursed at me and called me ugly and threatened to put their hands on me,” Salimah said.

On Feb. 11, 2014, she got caught between two boys fighting. One of them slammed her head against the classroom wall.

The 8-year-old left school that day in an ambulance.

That great requirement to hold back students who didn’t pass the 3rd grade reading test was abused by schools and lost in a court battle with parents.

While it may sound good on its face, that children should be required to be able to read by third grade, the challenge sometimes comes in demonstrating that they can. To those who haven’t taken a state standardized exam in many years, this is harder to do with a single test than you would think. Understanding what the test can or can’t measure is one thing. Accepting the score of an exam teachers haven’t seen or for which a scoring rubric is not available is an act of blind faith by a school district which can unfairly hurt students.

Jeb Bush justified the requirement saying he wanted to stop the practice of social promotion of unprepared students. But a Florida court ruled, in a case brought by parents who had refused to allow their child to take the statewide FSA test, that districts which used only the FSA test to determine promotion violated the state law. The law says,

“The statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment is not the sole determiner of promotion and additional evaluations, portfolio reviews, and assessments are available to the child to assist parents and the school district in knowing when a child is reading at or above grade level and ready for grade promotion.”

The law acknowledged what most schools have done for decades when considering promotion of a child. They looked at the child’s work in total to determine whether they were academically and socially prepared to move on with their age related peers.

The allure of choosing the easiest pathway to compliance, relying on a single standardized exam, means that many students who are only slightly behind in reading, or who take a while to digest what they read but are able to keep up with school work, might get unnecessarily held back causing log jams in 3rd grade. Because states are now being forced to use new assessments, where validity and reliability have not been demonstrated, one Florida legislator, Sen. Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla, admitted that, “if we’re all honest with the people of Florida we would admit right now we have a train wreck on our hands with our educational system.”

All the changes they have made in Florida haven’t dramatically or consistently improved test scores.

While there initially were some improvements in FL under the Bush Governorship, those gains were not sustainable. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores released in 2009 showed that for the first time since 2002 Florida third-graders made no gains in math, with only 78% of students considered proficient.  The number of third-graders meeting state goals went up just one point to 72 percent, the same as it was two years prior.

Four years later, the news was no better. In 2013 the scores from the 4th-10th-grade reading, science, and math sections of the FCAT 2.0, were stagnant or declining throughout the state.  Math scores were down with and 8th grade passing rate of only 51%, 6% less than the previous year. The only grade that went up in its passing rate was the fourth-grade, with an increase of 1 percent. Reading scores were only slightly better with a 1-2% increase over the previous year, but 10th graders still had only a 54% passage rate.

All of this is to say that Florida has not found the magic bullet to make education better for all students. Regardless of what Jeb Bush tells legislators today, don’t expect to see any dramatic changes in Missouri education if they follow the Sunshine State plan.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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