Here's a follow-up on yesterday's post about Betsy DeVos' love affair with Florida's "choice" system, a system of charters and vouchers that she's practically paid for. DeVos recently named Florida's "choice" system as her "model" or "blueprint" for the rest of the country. Republicans are currently drafting legislation that would take the state's tax-credit (voucher) system nation wide.
But a closer look at that system exposes it as part of the problem rather than a solution for failed schools.
Let's start with DeVos' faulty premise that school vouchers (tax credits to pay for private and religious school tuition) and the state's vast network of privately-owned charters are needed as escape routes from the state's "failing" public schools.
Failing schools in Florida's racially-segregated school system, means those schools graded F, based on student FCAT scores. Since those standardized test scores correlate more with concentrated poverty that anything going on in the classrooms, "failing" has become a code word for poor, black or Latino. The A-F grading system in turn, drives the state's real estate market, pushing up home prices around high-scoring schools and reinforcing segregation in both schools and housing.
Sociologists call it social-reproduction, a system that replicates and widens racial and class inequality and transmits it from one generation to the next.
Sunday's Miami Sun-Sentinel ran a story on South Florida's reported "record number of schools labeled as failing".
It used to be rare to have more than a handful of F-rated schools in any of the three counties. But this year, there were a whopping 66 in South Florida. Broward County had 29, Miami-Dade County, 20, and Palm Beach County, 17. The figures include district-run and charter schools.As if to reinforce my point, the article continues:
Most of this year's F-rated schools have been D-or F-rated in the past, and all serve students in high-poverty areas.
|Sunshine charter alternative school in Orlando|
Tucked among posh gated communities and meticulously landscaped shopping centers, Olympia High School in Orlando offers more than two dozen Advanced Placement courses, even more afterschool clubs, and an array of sports from bowling to water polo. U.S. News and World Report ranked it among the nation’s top 1,000 high schools last year.
Olympia’s success in recent years, however, has been linked to another, quite different school 5 miles away. Last school year, 137 students assigned to Olympia instead attended Sunshine High, a charter alternative school run by a for-profit company. Sunshine stands a few doors down from a tobacco shop and a liquor store in a strip mall. It offers no sports teams and few extra-curricular activities.
Sunshine’s 455 students – more than 85 percent of whom are black or Hispanic – 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.
Sunshine takes in cast-offs from Olympia and other Orlando high schools in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Olympia keeps its graduation rate above 90 percent — and its rating an “A” under Florida’s all-important grading system for schools — partly by shipping its worst achievers to Sunshine. Sunshine collects enough school district money to cover costs and pay its management firm, Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS), a more than $1.5 million-a-year “management fee,” 2015 financial records show – more than what the school spends on instruction.Get the picture?
Schools can only be labeled as losers when there are winners to compare them with. As charters and private alternatives re-segregate the system, they are often used to siphon off money and resources from public schools. But they can also be used to siphon off low-scoring kids and potential dropouts from the high-rated, wealthier and often whiter schools.
They can also mask the system's dropout rates. When students are re-assigned to charter alternatives, they are often on a path to dropping out. But they aren't counted as such by the A-rated schools they came from. This masking of dropouts goes on, not just in FL, but in school districts nation-wide.
According to the Sun-Sentinel:
Orlando is one of 83 school districts, from Newark to Los Angeles, where regular schools increased their graduation rates by at least one percentage point from 2010 to 2014 while sending more students into alternative education...Such a pattern could indicate that traditional schools are weeding out students at greater risk of dropping out, although there are many reasons why graduation rates rise.A good reason to be skeptical about "miracle schools" and reported record-high graduation rates.