Florida Times-Union columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee is onto the fact that Florida’s republican legislators are more worried about getting charter schools than holding them accountable. After noting a charter-school funded think-tank gave Florida a great grade for “operating freedom” and “flexibility” Weathersbee points to another study which shows that those charter schools aren’t doing so well:
It’s understandable that the center would grade states on how easy they make it for charter schools to proliferate.
That’s because the main promise behind those schools is that if they’re allowed some flexibility to teach students without being hamstrung by rules that other public schools have to abide by, they can produce better students.
So Florida has given charter schools a lot of flexibility, but it’s hard to see how that flexibility is working for students.
In 2009, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University did a study that found that charter school students in Florida, Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas posted lower academic gains than their peers in traditional public schools.
Then last year in Florida, charter schools received 15 out of 31 of all the failing FCAT grades that went to public schools. Charter elementary and middle schools were seven times more likely to get an F than traditional public schools.
Even KIPP Impact Middle, a charter school that has been nationally praised for its success with underprivileged students, scored an F after its first year.
All of which says that measuring a state on how easy it is to operate a charter school isn’t as important as how to gauge its accountability.
That’s not happening enough. And it’s troubling.
Meanwhile, a Dunedin charter school serves as a reminder that Florida legislators have let some children down. Tampa Bay Times writer John Romano punches holes in Florida’s current charter school policies:
There is a lot of noise in Tallahassee these days about privatization. Prisons. Schools. Even highway toll roads are candidates to be turned over to private companies.
The governor seems infatuated with this idea, and a good chunk of the Legislature is also on board. The philosophy meshes well with their smaller government agenda, and they often defend it by explaining how private business breeds healthy competition.
But there is one tiny detail they continually overlook:
Businesses typically care only about the bottom line.
That means profits are more important than people. That means corners may be cut, missions may be compromised and promises may be forgotten.
That kind of cutthroat thinking may be tolerable in other segments of the business world, but it’s hard to defend when you’re talking about classrooms filled with children.
In the case of Life Force Arts and Technology Academy in Dunedin, that translated into discontinuing bus service, cutting off student supplies and paying educators about half of what a starting teacher typically makes in Pinellas County.
Meanwhile, the for-profit management company in charge used your tax dollars to pay itself almost double what it originally told a bankruptcy court it would charge, according to a revealing series of stories done by the Times’ Drew Harwell
Romano finishes this way:
There is nothing inherently wrong with private-public partnerships. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with turning a profit.
But there is something seriously wrong with turning over core services to companies that do not always have the public’s best interests in mind.
And Florida residents may want to keep that in mind before the folks in Tallahassee sell us down the river.
Those folks in Tallahassee that Romano mentions have shown no signs that they are the least bit worried about results or accountability of charter schools. The last legislative session was dominated by a dubious parent trigger scheme and a dishonest attempt to get more money for charter schools. How many failing and corrupt charter schools will it take for them to stop blindly pushing through everything that Jeb Bush wants?