Florida’s “Low Performing” B Schools
Florida’s school grades were released in the middle of my summer vacation to much fanfare. Many districts and schools saw success. For example, both Miami-Dade and Orange County celebrated having ZERO “F” rated district schools (though both districts had a few F rated charter schools).
The Department of Education issued a report showing that 90% of Florida’s schools maintained or improved their grade. There were only 32 “F” schools (out of 3,185), down from 80 “F” schools in 2016. The FLDOE claims such results mean that Florida’s focus on low performing schools is “paying off.” While we applaud the hard work of teachers and administrators across the state, we encourage everyone to take a deep breath, pause and consider what school grades really tell us: are they an accurate measure of a quality education or do they reflect the success of test preparation and a narrowed curriculum? Do they represent a true measure of student achievement or reflect the demographics of the student population? Is the School Grade calculation a fair, reliable and/or accurate measure of education quality or is it accountabaloney?
A Quick Look at the 300 Lowest Performing Elementary Schools List
The 300 Lowest Performing Elementary Schools List is the brainchild of Florida State Senator David Simmons. His initial bill, passed in 2012, called for adding an additional hour of reading instruction to the regular school day of the state’s 100 lowest performing elementary schools. The lowest performing elementary schools are determined based on English Language Arts Achievement (the percentage of students passing the grade level ELA-FSA) and learning gains points earned. The list was expanded to the lowest 300 schools in 2014. Senator Simmons claims he got the idea when a principal from a struggling Orlando school said “If I just had more time with these children, I could make a big, big difference with them.” Initially the extra hour was an unfunded mandate, but now some funding is included in the budget on a year to year basis.
A few observances and thoughts:
- By definition, there will ALWAYS be 300 lowest performing elementary schools. When one school successfully leaves the list, another with drop in to take its place.
- This year, there are more than 300 schools on the list (311, due to a “tie” for 300th).
- Only elementary schools are included on the list. K-8 schools are not subject to the extra hour, regardless of their reading performance.
- All but 3 schools this year were Title 1. These are schools from poor neighborhoods. Of the non-Title 1 schools, 2 were charter schools and one was a traditional public school.
- There are 11 “B” schools on the list. (In 2014 there were 7 B schools on this list. In 2016 there were 8.)
This year there are 11 “B” schools on the list… Imagine the mixed message this sends to these schools… This smells of accountabaloney.
When these “Lowest 300” schools add the mandated additional hour of reading instruction, are they able to maintain the full, balanced curriculum elementary students deserve? Will the costs associated with the extra hour be fully covered by the state or will funds need to be diverted from other programs? Will these students have access to art, music, PE and recess? Do these schools have trained librarians and fully stocked libraries?
We applaud Senator Simmons for his willingness to provide extra support to struggling schools. We wonder if the same funding couldn’t be put to better use by allowing local control of added funds to these schools, rather than insisting on the extra hour. Given the option, would some schools elect to hire a librarian or purchase more books?
We question a system that labels “B” rated schools as lowest performing. Either the B grade is too generous or the problem is with the lowest 300 list. Since there will always be 300 lowest performing schools, we fear the list may be to blame. Why not set a desired reading performance level for elementary schools and provide the funding for services necessary to achieve those levels?
If your child’s school finds itself on the Lowest 300 list and loses programing (such as art, music or PE), please let your concerns be know. Likewise, if your Lowest 300 school does not have a librarian or an adequate library, please ask why. Finally, please ask how a system can simultaneously celebrate B rated schools and declare them low performing because that is accountabaloney.