Who Should Be Held Accountable if Negron and Corcoran’s Secret Education Plans Fail Florida Students?
Education advocates and stakeholders from across Florida are anxiously waiting to see what Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have privately decided regarding pending education legislation this session. If Speaker Corcoran’s primary legislative priority, “Schools of Hope”, survives intact, then 115 chronically challenged public schools, all located in financially struggling neighborhoods, will have to be closed or privatized as of July 1, 2017. As far as we can tell, no one has questioned the timeline for implementation. To be clear, to date NO charter corporations have been identified as “High Impact” or “Schools of Hope-worthy” and there is no language to discuss the time clearly needed to create necessary infrastructure to close or convert these struggling schools.
Senator Bean, who is the sponsor of the senate version of “Schools of Hope” (SB796), described his bill as the “red carpet bill to welcome in high performing charter schools that have a rich history of success” to Florida. Senator Bean, who represents parts of Nassau and Duval counties, admitted he is partial to KIPP which has schools in one of the most challenged areas of Jacksonville, and described their success as “extraordinary.”
“Generally speaking… if you are going to college in that challenged area, that zip code in Jacksonville, your chances of going to college… is 5%. But, yet, if you go to KIPP, 85% chance that you’re going to go to college. It’s truly transforming loves…”
When Senator Bean presented SB796 to the Senate Education Committee, it was not yet amended to closely align with Rep. Corcoran’s “Schools of Hope” language. At that meeting, Senator Farmer directly asked Senator Bean if he intended to amend the bill to align with “Schools of Hope.” Several senators agreed to vote for the bill anticipating that there would be ample time for further discussion and modification at the bill’s next stop in the Senate Education Appropriations committee. Two days later, the original reference to Education Appropriations was removed and the bill was sent directly to the Senate Appropriations Committee, at which time Senator Bean presented a delete all amendment aligning the bill to “Schools of Hope.” In Appropriations, public testimony was all but eliminated and SB796 was presented and passed in less than 5 minutes.
Let’s take a closer look at Senator Bean’s favorite high performing charter school, KIPP:Jacksonville.
In Jacksonville, KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) operates a middle school and two small elementary schools. KIPP Impact Middle School opened in 2010, after being lured to Jacksonville by a $1 million dollar donation Gary Chartrand, who was later appointed by Governor Scott to the State Board of Education. The school also received $26 million in allocations from Florida Community Loan Fund (which supports projects that directly serve low-income Floridians and their communities.). Since then two KIPP elementary school have opened, enrolling approximately 200 kindergarten students (total) each year.
As outlined by Senator Bean, KIPP students attend a longer school day and a longer school year. Parents of KIPP students are required to donate “sweat equity” and volunteer time at the school. Such requirements have led to concerns that KIPP schools’ requirements, and the schools’ significant attrition rates, lead to skimming of more highly motivated students which may account for any measured academic successes.
KIPP Impact Middle School serves approximately 400 students. Their FIRST 8th grade class graduated in 2014. Currently, those students would be juniors in high school. So, to be clear, NO Jacksonville KIPP students have gone to college yet. When Senator Bean sang KIPP’s praises, he was quoting their website which claims KIPP students complete college at rate “four times higher than that of students from similar economic backgrounds” and that, nationally, more than 85% of KIPP students are entering college. Such performance data has not been replicated in Florida (yet).
Currently, in Florida, KIPP Impact Middle School is a C rated school, up from a D rating in 2015 when learning gains were not included in the school grade calculation. Only one of the elementary schools, KIPP Voice, received a grade (the other is too new to receive a school grade). KIPP Voice Elementary was a D rated school in 2016.
The demographics of the KIPP:Jacksonville schools are interesting. According to the School Grades report, in both KIPP Impact Middle and KIPP Voice Elementary, 98% of the student body is minority. Surprisingly, neither school appears to be serving economically disadvantaged children. While many schools in Duval serve populations of greater than 50% economically disadvantaged students, KIPP Impact Middle and KIPP Voice Elementary serves a population of just 17% and 20%, respectively. We suspect the FLDOE School Grades report may not be an accurate measure of student socioeconomic status, but, if this data is correct, these schools would NOT qualify as “Schools of Hope” operators which are required to exceed 70% economically disadvantaged students (those eligible for free or reduced price lunch).
Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has spoken out against “Schools of Hope” legislation, in general, and KIPP Jacksonville, in particular, stating “Even ‘Schools of Hope’ such as Jacksonville’s KIPP have faced ‘D’ and ‘F’ school grades. More importantly, KIPP is not outperforming the district’s Title I average for reading and math proficiency.”
KIPP’s national performance was recently brought into question when it became clear that a KIPP high school in New York City had rigged its reported outcomes that resulted in the school being ranked 29th in the U.S. News and World Reports annual rating. You can read more about it here and here. To summarize, the highly rated KIPP high school is not a real school but a subset of the highest performing students from a larger high school. That subset of 58 KIPP students was presented as attending a free standing school, resulting in spectacular 100% participation rate and a 98% passing rate of Advanced Placement (AP) exams. These fantastic AP results resulted in the the pretend school being ranked 29th in the nation. The actual KIPP high school served approximately 200 students, had an AP participation rate of 43% and a AP passing rate of 36%, not nearly as spectacular.
So, Senator Bean’s favorite example of a potential “School of Hope” is KIPP Jacksonville, which received $26 million prior to opening, is receiving C and D ratings and is NOT outperforming district Title I schools. Senator Bean bragged about college matriculation data, yet the first graduating class of KIPP Impact Middle school, will not graduate high school for another year.
A few questions:
- Are KIPP schools a solution for Florida’s chronically struggling schools or will they just provide escape for “some” students?
- Is there any evidence that KIPP is capable of scaling up to satisfy the state’s “Schools of Hope” needs?
- Will each new KIPP school require millions of dollars of community support? Is such financial support realistic?
- If, as Dr. Vitti states, KIPP is not outperforming district schools, why not invest in traditional public schools?
- If not KIPP, who will fill the void for the 115 schools slated for closure or conversion on July 1?
These are questions that should have been asked before SB796 was fast tracked to the Senate floor. These questions should be discussed before these bills are passed. Have President Negron and Speaker Corcoran discussed the potential impacts of these bills or are they merely horse trading during their private sessions? Are they prepared to close 115 public schools on July 1st or do they expect KIPP and others to magically appear and take up the slack?
Who should be held accountable if their secret plans fail thousands of Florida’s most at-risk students?