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Monday, December 26, 2011

Florida's education leaders have a hard time hiding the truth in December

from Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

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.

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