Learning to Do Better in Florida

Florida Democrats took a shot today at one of the things Jeb points to as a glowing success: the state’s failing public education system. A press release from the House Democratic Caucus said:

Since Gov. Jeb Bush took office, student performance has significantly dropped as more and more emphasis has been placed on a school’s overall grade on the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT). Barely half of Florida children are reading at grade-level, resulting in the nation’s worst high school graduation rate, with just over 50 percent of all high school students graduating. According to recent data, Florida students rank 44th and 48th in the nation respectively on the verbal and math portions of the college-entrance SAT.

Small wonder. Under Jeb’s plan public schools have changed from places where kids learn about the world and develop a direction in life to institutions fighting for their existence. All other studies are subordinated to the narrow range of skills tested on the FCAT – gone are subjects like social studies, civics, art, music, science. Incredibly, with the obesity epidemic facing so many children, physical education classes have also been nixed.

Jeb’s reward/punishment system means that schools which do well on the FCAT continue to be fully funded. In one case, a school in a prestigious area was reportedly given such lavish bonuses for its FCAT scores that students, most already well-to-do, were taken on a field trip to a theme park. Meanwhile schools that struggle – for example, because they serve largely non-English speaking students or have a lower property tax base – see their funding drained away.

A lot of that money ends up in private hands, via vouchers. Florida’s voucher system has been as scandal-plagued as every other privatization initiative in the state, including money going to “schools” whose campuses are P.O. boxes, as well as schools run by terrorist sympathizers. Democrats said today that Jeb’s system is ruining Florida’s economy.

The Republican education system is having a serious negative impact on our economy. In March, the Palm Beach Post reported that Citrix, a large South Florida software company is looking to grow outside of Florida, primarily because our schools are not preparing students for tomorrow’s high-tech jobs…In their landmark New Cornerstone Report, the Chamber wrote that “basic education skills are weak…skilled labor (is) in short supply in many industries…advanced science and engineering skills also remain limited…technology discovery, development and deployment remains unbalanced.”

The plan announced by the Democrats doesn’t sound as if it broke new ground, but at least it’s a start.

The Democrats’ plan is partially based on a 2004 report authored by the University of South Florida’s Dr. Sherman Dorn, written for the Tallahassee-based think tank Civic Concern…

The Democrats’ plan would also overhaul the school grading system, by moving away from a system of grading schools A-F to a system that designates schools as “Passing with Distinction,” “Passing,” or “Failing.” The plan would also reduce the weight of school FCAT scores in determining a school’s overall grade and add new factors, such as parental involvement, school discipline, average class size and drop-out rates.


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