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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Florida's Charter schools were seven times more likely to fail.

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Scott Maxwell
 There are those who argue that charter schools are among the biggest failures in Florida's education system — botched ventures that waste taxpayer money and fail the children who attend them.
Those people are right.
There are also those who argue that charter schools have been lifesavers — unique learning institutions that serve children in an effective way that traditional schools never could.
You see, the problem with all the hubbub about charter schools is that you rarely get the full picture.Those people are right, as well.
Vested interests tell only one side of the story — their side.
Today I'm going to give you the full — and complex — story.
Let's start with the problems, because there are lots of them.
For starters, charter schools fail and close at an alarming rate.
One of every five has failed to keep its doors open.
And last year charter schools accounted for nearly 50 percent of the state's F-rated schools, even though they accounted for only 11 percent of the total public schools.
Put another way: Charter schools were seven times more likely to fail.
Yet Florida politicians barreled ahead, vowing to pour more tax dollars into this flawed system — and now they're talking about doubling the number of kids in charter schools.
Apparently "accountability" is only for traditional schools.
At one failed venture — Imani Elementary in Orange — students lacked books, missed tests and basically lost an entire year's worth of education as the school racked up debt of more than $400,000.
Can you imagine if a traditional school had done such things?
Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislators would have tripped over themselves to blame unions, lazy teachers and bureaucracies.
Yet, when charter schools fail, they don't say squat.
On the flip side, there are some sterling charter success stories.
Lake Eola Charter School, for instance, has posted nearly a decade's worth of straight A's.
And there are many charter schools that successfully help kids with special needs — everything from discipline problems to physical disabilities.
UCP of Central Florida, for instance, does amazing things for kids with autism, cerebral palsyand Down syndrome. Students at UCP's charter schools are taught by experts — and produce impressive test scores.
Some of that success is due to freedom from the same stringent regulations at traditional schools — some imposed by government, some imposed by the teachers unions.
That some charter schools do exactly what we hope, but that Florida is trying to expand so fast that it is unable to monitor all the schools — or all of your money.
The state needs to slow down.
The state also needs to stop drowning traditional schools in regulation and bureaucracy. If you like the idea of schools thriving when freed from government's grip, you should loosen the grip for everyone.
We need accountability. We need some sort of merit pay. But we don't need lesson plans dictated down to the minute by Tallahassee or pay raises that depend largely upon standardized test scores.
We need to help charters succeed when there's a proven need or a demonstrated model for success. But we shouldn't view them as a cure-all, especially when evidence shows many of them are a flat-out mess.
What we need is to take the debate about schools away from the vested interests with narrow focus — be they union-haters, union leaders, profit-seekers or ideologues.
There are plenty of good ideas out there. And plenty of bad ones.
We just have to be honest about all of them if we really want to improve. or 407-420-6141

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