Dear State Legislators:
Friends in New Mexico have told me that your governor wants to import the so-called “Florida model” of education to New Mexico.
I urge you to oppose this effort.
Florida is not a good model for the nation. It is not even good for Florida.
The Florida model rests on two pillars: One is privatization, the other is incessant testing. Neither is good for children or for the future well-being of your state.
Privatization in the Florida model proceeds through privately-managed charter schools and vouchers. Neither of them improves education.
Florida has authorized many charters. Charters are not the answer to educational needs of children for the following reasons, as demonstrated in Florida:
1. Charters don’t get better results than regular public schools. Half the F-rated schools in Florida are charters, even though charters are a small proportion of schools in Florida. Many of Florida’s charters are simply bad schools run by incompetent managers. Even the KIPP school in Jacksonville–a chain that usually shows high scores–was rated F by the state.
2. Charters in Florida are often for-profit and many have enriched their sponsors without helping students or providing a sound education. The Miami Herald ran a series exposing the charter school scams in Dade County (http://www.miamiherald.com/charterschools/index.html.)
3. Many charters get high test scores by excluding the students with the greatest needs–especially those with disabilities and those who are English language learners. This leaves the regular public schools with unusual numbers of the most challenging and most expensive students. Charters are also known for pushing out low-performing students. These actions give the false appearance of charter “success.”
Under Jeb Bush, Florida created two voucher programs. One, for students in “failing” schools, was declared unconstitutional by state courts. The other, for disabled students, remains in place. Vouchers are not the answer to the educational needs of students.
1. A recent expose of the McKay scholarship program for disabled students revealed that many of the voucher schools were operating in substandard spaces, with students watching television or filling out worksheets and doing nothing of educational value. These are sham schools.(http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2011-06-23/news/mckay-scholarship-program-sparks-a-cottage-industry-of-fraud-and-chaos/)
2. Milwaukee has had vouchers for low-income students for 21 years. The Milwaukee schools are today one of the nation’s lowest performing districts, and the black students in Milwaukee perform on the same level as black students in the Deep South. Students in voucher schools in Milwaukee perform no better than students in regular public schools, and both sectors are doing terribly. The state has poured $1 billion into voucher schools over the past 21 years.
Constant testing, as in the Florida model, does not improve schools. Instead, it creates a pressure-cooker atmosphere in which test preparation becomes obsessive because the stakes are so high. Some districts in Florida suspend instruction for weeks in advance of the FCAT because the educators are so concerned about their school’s letter grade. This is NOT good education. This is test mania.
Florida saw improvement on the national tests but many outsiders attribute that improvement to the mandated class size reduction, brought about against Governor Jeb Bush’s wishes by referendum of the voters.
We know from research and experience what children and schools need, and it will not be found in the Florida model.
Children need high-quality early childhood education, so that they arrive in school ready to learn. The achievement gap begins before the first day of kindergarten.
Children need to be healthy and well-nourished or they won’t attend school regularly or be able to attend to their lessons.
Children need a full and balanced curriculum that includes the arts, the sciences, mathematics, history, civics, physical education, foreign languages, and time for play.
Children need to be assessed by writing and showing what they know, not just by marking a bubble on a multiple-choice test.
Children need experienced teachers who are with them for the long haul, not inexperienced college graduates who commit to teach for only two years.
Children and their schools need the support of their families and their communities.
Collaboration and concern and love build great schools–not testing and punishment and privatization.
Research Professor of Education, New York University.