A December of Deceptions, Misleads and Misteps by Florida Republicans on Education Policy


Education commissioner Gerard Robinson had a nice little spin on this month’s release of state graduation numbers.

“I want to commend Florida’s teachers, students, parents and school leaders for their dedication to helping their students learn and earn their high school diplomas,” Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson stated in a release. “As educators, we each play a significant role in helping our students achieve academic success, and graduation is one critical step toward the path to college and career.”

Robinson stays with the game plan of the state’s ed reform godfathers and avoids confrontation that challenges their narrative. It should come as no surprise that when St. Petersburg Times reporter Ron Matus saw “the catch,”  in the numbers Robinson was unavailable for comment. Writes Matus on December 12:

Using their own formulas, independent researchers have found Florida’s graduation rates to be among the worst in the nation, but also among the fastest rising. Their numbers tend to be substantially lower than what the state claims.

Critics point to a loophole.

Last year, nearly 15,000 adult education transfers were left out of Florida’s calculations, boosting the graduation rate by 5.7 percentage points, according to a St. Petersburg Times analysis. Almost as many (14,643) were left out this year, according to DOE data sent late Monday in response to a Times request.

Schott Foundation researcher Michael Holzman has more:

When most people talk about high school graduation rates, they mean the percentage of students in grade 9 who graduate four years later.  Using that definition, and counting only standard diplomas, Florida’s graduation rate is 63 percent, not 80 percent; the graduation rate for the state’s Hispanic students is 65 percent, not 77 percent; for Black students 54 percent, not 68 percent.  The graduation rate for Black male students alone was 47 percent.  Most of Florida’s Black male students who were in Grade 9 four years ago did not graduate with a standard diploma four years later.

In Duval County (Jacksonville), the graduation rate for Black male students is now 36 percent, in Pinellas County (Tampa) it is 34 percent.  Both of these are much improved from two years ago, when each graduated less than a quarter of their Black male students in four years.  Now they graduate more than one-third, leaving just under two-thirds behind.

Progress, of a sort.

Robinson had to at least try to see if he could get by with the spin. There was no way he was going to give Matus a big story by responding to “the catch” inside the numbers. Especially not with a new legislative session coming up.

How convenient it was for Robinson and his ideological master, Jeb Bush, to have such a formula in place when they shoved through a strengthening of FCAT. They never had to face real questions about links between high stakes tests and graduation rates.

And what is it about this gang and having to mislead taxpayers? Just last week their back door voucher legislative stunt was smacked down by a Tallahassee judge for being “misleading.” And what about revelations that they never intended to fund merit pay?

Jeb Bush has spent a decade selling Floridians on not only the superiority, but the virtue of his vision of school reform. If either is true, why does his legislative wonk, Patricia Levesque,  need to advance decoy legislation  – which included the misleading voucher scheme – during the last session?

From the Lee Fang’s stunning expose in The Nation, we learned that all these decoys were to advance charter schools. So what’s this session’s decoy legislation? Is it Joe Negron and Ben Albritton’s bill which would make Gerard Robinson’s  job an elected official again? As Rick Scott and business leaders are against it, the bill probably won’t get out of committee; but they won’t mind opponents spending alot of capital advocating for it.

Since December 2nd, not a discouraging word has been heard on parent trigger legislation. That’s too quiet. It was Scott’s initiative. USF Professor Sherman Dorn points out that parent trigger legislation is just the sort of constitutional end-around that charter schools like.

Still, it could be that Scott can’t get find anyone in the legislature to walk it through. Charter schools and their legislative backers have taken a beating this month from scrutiny by the Florida media.  We’ve also heard nothing from Levesque since the November story in The Nation that received significant play in the state.

Did all those rich charter school operators  and their allies over-play their hand during the last session? The one thing that charter school operators have left is that most taxpayers don’t realize they all are essentially private schools run on the public dime. Not public schools run privately. Who needs vouchers and parent triggers if charter schools are the same thing? But now that these realities are  being reported on in the media, its reasonable to speculate on the future of Florida’s charter school juggernaut.

About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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2 Responses to A December of Deceptions, Misleads and Misteps by Florida Republicans on Education Policy

  1. Sandra says:

    We must keep an eye on both the ed reformers narrative and their silence. I was unaware of this report on graduation rates. There are often too many balls in the air to follow….a deviously effective tactic.

  2. 3D Learner says:

    Bob, great job. What citizens need to recognize is that every dollar that goes to a Charter School takes that exact amount away from Public Schools. Public school budgets have decreased by $400 million a year, and it will get much bigger. What happens — reading coaches get cut, music and art are either crippled or disappear, money for raises — gone, and our ability to attract and retain young teachers, gone.

    Florida has followed a now obvious strategy of de-funding public schools at the expense of our students, our teachers and our future.

    This is a great deal for private school companies, but a very bad deal for students, teachers and our state.

    Those who believe in public schools face three major challenges — one is to improve public schools — there are far too many problems that have created Charter School Mania and they must be addressed, one has to make the schools more customer friendly and win over their parents, and at the same time one needs to fight for support in Tallahassee – with a combination of winning the support of existing legislators and electing new legislators who support public schools

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