[UPDATE] Struggling Florida Schools Get More Time

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[UPDATE] 7-20 10:45am -

As a last resort, eight struggling Florida schools on Tuesday were given one more year to execute a turnaround strategy designed to boost student performance.

This last-minute approval, just a month before the school year begins, came with stern warnings from the State Board of Education that the schools must show dramatic improvement by the same time next year, or risk closing, becoming a charter or being turned over for a private company to run.

The threat of major changes to some of Floridas oldest schools, all of which sit in low-income areas in urban centers such as Miami and Jacksonville, prompted a public outcry and pleas to help save them.

Most of the schools impacted by Tuesdays decision are in Duval and Miami-Dade counties. These schools were placed on intervene status based in part on the F and D grades the schools had received for years. A school has two years to improve student performance, and if they fail to make improvements, or face sanctions.

In Miami Dade, the schools placed on the struggling schools list were Miami Edison Senior High School and Miami Central Senior High School. In Duval County, the struggling schools were Andrew Jackson Senior High School, Jean Ribault Senior High School, William Raines Senior High School and North Shore K-8.

All board members, except one, agreed the schools should be given more time to complete turnaround strategies begun at least two years ago. Duval and Miami Dade have ambitious strategies for improving performance, from bringing in new principals, administrators and teachers, starting Saturday programs, setting up performance pay incentives, and getting parents more involved through parent academies.

In Duval County, Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals said he plans to split up the districts struggling high schools into two programs. For instance, Raines would have a performing arts program and a science, technology, engineering and math program tied to vocational training. Students would have to pick one program to enroll in.

But the board also said Tuesday that it wants more scrutiny of the intervention process that were established through a federal program known as differentiated accountability. For instance, the board was unhappy that it had to make such a high-stakes decision only a month before school starts, which gave the schools and the potential private management companies or charter operators little time to prepare.

Interim Commissioner John Winn called for giving the board more power over managing struggling schools. The board needs more authority in being involved and ensuring whatever new approach is being taken that it be a high quality one. Right now the current system does not specifically apply, Winn said.

The federal school improvement program is designed to help funnel money and resources toward struggling schools, allowing for more targeted instruction on struggling students. It puts schools in different categories depending on their performance on state-administered tests, school grades and other federal guidelines.

Schools on intervene status are sanctioned with the choice of trying a district-managed turn around, privatizing or becoming a charter, or closing. All of the schools the board considered Tuesday had chosen a district turnaround strategy, but their strategies hadnt produced enough improvement to get off the struggling schools list.

Only board member John Padget disagreed with giving the schools more time to turn themselves around. Padget said they had been given ample time to prove themselves and should be sent a message that poor performance isnt tolerated. We have reached this point because the present structure has failed these students, Padget said.

Superintendents for Duval and Miami Dade County Schools urged the board to give them a chance to help the students perform better, saying two years is not enough to execute a big turnaround. In Miami-Dade, the district is entering its fourth year of its turnaround attempt. Duval is in its third year.

Miami Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho called the transformation already underway at Edison a miracle. The school went from an F grade in 2009 to a C grade in 2010, with jumps in performance in math, science and reading, as well as the number of students taking advanced courses, he said.

Miami Central, too, has seen major jumps in improvement and was also graded a C last year. President Barack Obama even visited the school in March and praised it as an example of good reform efforts.

Give credit where progress has been made over a short period of time, Carvalho told the board. He compared high schools to aircraft carriers that are slow to turnaround, as opposed to more nimble elementary schools.

He also cautioned against the unintended consequence of a complex school improvement plan that marries together federal policies with state guidelines and school grades and makes it difficult for some schools to ever escape the struggling school label, even though significant progress has been made.

Carvalho suggested considering more than letter grades and test scores when determining whether to intervene, including data such as graduation rates, college readiness and industry certifications.

The intervene process right now fails to provide a rational, objective way of gauging progress, he said.

The most impassioned pleas came from community members that made the trek to Tampa for the board meeting. A group of a half-dozen students and parents from Duval County watched the meeting, with passionate pleas from parents, a student and alumni to keep the school open and go to the back-up plan of privatizing the schools.

Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, spoke before the board and criticized the intervention and school grading process, which labels schools as failing and puts a brain drain on every single one of those schools.

Jones attended Raines Senior High School in Jacksonville. We need to be conscious of making sure our best and brightest stay in our neighborhood schools, Jones said.


[UPDATE] 7-19 11:30am -

The State Board of Education has agreed to allow more time for struggling schools in Miami-Dade and Escambia counties more time to turn themselves around. The schools are on “intervene” status for poor performance on state tests and federal accountability standards. Only one state board member – John Padget – voted against granting the schools more time, saying he wants to send a message that the schools should take their poor performance seriously. The board is giving the schools, which include Miami Central Senior High School and Miami Edison Senior High School, one year to show increased improvement in learning gains in math, science, reading and writing. The board has yet to take up a similar request for more time from Duval County, which has four schools on “intervene” status. If the board had not approved these requests for more time, the schools would have to privatize, close or become charters.



For the first time, Florida’s most persistently struggling schools are asking the State Board of Education to give them another year to turn themselves around.

If their request isn’t granted, the schools may have to shut down, privatize, or become charter schools.

If granted a waiver by the board, eight schools in Miami Dade, Duval and Escambia counties will be able to continue efforts to turn themselves around. According to the State Department of Education, the schools, which have a combined total enrollment of 6,000, have received “D” or “F” grades for a decade or more, though a couple have rebounded a bit recently.

The schools are likely to get their request. Commissioner John Winn issued a statement late Friday that said he will request that the board grant waivers to six of them. The other two were already recommended for approval.

But Winn said there should be conditions. Under his recommendation, the six schools in Duval and Miami Dade counties would have to hold a “well-publicized event” to showcase other school options in the area, pay for a school turnaround consultant and deliver monthly reports to the Commissioner of Education. The schools must also hold more public meetings to explore options for improving student performance.

Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said he is pleased with Winn’s decision, and cautioned against closing the schools, calling them anchors of their communities.

Miami Edison Senior High School and Miami Central Senior High School are two schools that would have to close or convert into a privately managed or charter schools if the board does not grant their request for more time.

“These schools are often times more than just schools, they are institutions,” Bullard said. “They are places where multiple generations of our community have gone. When you are talking about shutting schools down, it is going to be problematic and you are going to get protests, and rightfully so.”

Both high schools had jumped to a “C” grade last year, but that apparently wasn’t enough to save them from possible closure. Miami Central was even praised by President Barack Obama as national model for reform.

In Duval County, Andrew Jackson Senior High School, Jean Ribault Senior High School, William Raines Senior High School and North Shore K-8 are all requesting waivers.

Duval County Schools spokeswoman Jill Johnson said all four struggling schools are in low-income areas, with a high proportion of students eligible for free and reduced lunches. Johnson said the district has worked to turn the schools around by replacing administrators and staff, improving safety, offering targeted instruction and increased training and getting the community more involved. The schools are seeing some improvement, she said, with attendance rates up and the number of students given disciplinary suspensions down.

If the board rejects their appeal, Duval Partners for Excellent Education, a non-profit, would take over management of the schools. The non-profit was created by the Duval County School Board.

The Florida Education Association, the state’s teacher’s union, supports district efforts to turn around schools.

“The communities are really interested in maintaining control of them and the school districts are very interested in continuing to try to improve those schools. We would be in support of what the school districts want as far as that is concerned,” said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow. “They are the ones that are experts on it rather than somebody here in Tallahassee.”

But some question whether charter schools, one of the options for persistently struggling schools, are the right choice.

The same test-based school grade data used to determine which schools are struggling shows that charter schools struggle, too. Out of the 31 schools that got an “F,” 15 were charter schools. These grades did not include high schools.

The Orlando Sentinel also analyzed the school grades and discovered that charter schools perform no better, and sometimes worse, than public schools.

This contradicts the effusive praise that charter schools often get from lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott. State Board of Education Member John Padget, a former superintendent, said last month that “every single charter has superior results to all the other schools.” Padget said he wants more encouragement and expansion of charters.

Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature and Scott approved legislation this year that made it easier for charter schools to expand and add new grades. But some public school advocates say charter schools are not held to the same standards as traditional public schools, with more relaxed testing and class size requirements.

“The grades point out that charters aren’t a panacea,” Pudlow said. “If a school is struggling, it is probably struggling not because of management or teachers, but because of circumstances beyond what is in the classroom.”


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