Writing for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, Mike Thomas bemoans Florida’s class size amendment as a “$30 billion mistake.”
What sounded good on a ballot turned chaotic when implemented to the letter of the law. We now have an annual exercise in head counting, body shifting and last-minute scrambling. Districts found in violation are fined, draining funds intended for educating students. Some districts have intentionally violated the class-size requirements because it can be cheaper just paying the fines.
Thirteen years after voters approved the amendment, the state has spent $30 billion implementing it. In 2010, researchers from the Harvard Kennedy School examined test scores between 2004 and 2009 in grades 3-8 and concluded that shrinking classes “had no discernible impact upon student achievement, either positive or negative.’’
The rapid academic gains made by Florida students over the past 15 years track accountability reforms, not class-size reductions.
If you had to summarize the national research, the general consensus is that smaller classes most benefit disadvantaged children in the early grades. Beyond that, any advantage becomes far less clear.
Floridians know that no piece of propaganda comes out of Bush’s foundations without data being water boarded into submission. Collier county school board, Erika Donalds member easily dispatches this Bush blather with a more honest look at some of the data that Thomas touts in a substantive memorandum which appeared in the Naples Daily News:
While the citizens of Florida should be proud of the educational gains since the mid-1990’s, several indicators should give pause for reflection as the State and its districts contemplate changes to its assessment and accountability model:
* Florida ranks about average on NAEP relative to other states. However, in recent years it has posted below average gains and lost ground.
*Improvements in FCAT have also plateaued with modest gains in reading and no gains in math for 5-6 years.
*Half of Florida’s graduates cannot read at grade-level2.
*High school graduation rates remain among the lowest in the country (rank: 40th).
*College going rates remain average relative to other states.
*The percent of Florida’s graduates who score at high levels on the ACT or SAT is significantly lower than the national average, even among states with similar percentage of students tested.
*A larger percent of students attending college in Florida require remediation relative to those in other states (about 54% versus about 40% nationwide.)
Always parroting the Bush foundations rhetoric, the FDOE predictably dismissed Donalds’ memorandum as “it neglects to characterize real gains.” This is code for “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
Worse for Thomas attempt to cite government waste in the state’s class size amendment, Donald’s memorandum cites waste in Florida’s high-stakes testing regime which serves as life’s blood to the FDOE-Bush tag team. Along with co-author, Adam Cota who interestingly has prepared research for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Donalds indicated there is a “financial ‘opportunity cost’ associated with lost instructional time.”
In other words, Donalds-Cota are showing that Florida taxpayers are paying quite a bit for real instruction time that’s understandably lost because of tests – as much as $1.8 billion. Bush loyalists won’t even hear of such blasphemy.
Thomas screed against costs of the class-size amendment is a demonstration of real chutzpah as it was his boss, Jeb Bush, who said in 2002 that he had “devious plans” to undermine the class-size amendment. It was Bush who put the “$30 billion mistake” in motion.
The growing number of educrats who flow back and forth between Bush-controlled foundations and the FDOE are dependent on maintaining both the state’s high-stakes test regime and the Florida model of faux success. Any contrarian read of their data is a real threat to them, but a service to all Floridians. Donalds and Cota have done just that.