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North Central Florida Charter Schools Outperform Public Schools in 2016

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More charter schools could be coming to Florida after President-elect Donald Trump announced on Nov. 23 that Betsy DeVos, a longtime supporter of charter education and school choice, would be his choice for U.S. Secretary of Education.

DeVos has ties to Florida education, serving on the board of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Tallahassee-based think tank, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which has promoted charter schools and expanded school choice.

One in every nine — 18 of 162 — North Central Florida schools that received grades from the Florida Department of Education in 2016 were charter schools, according to data provided from the department.

Grade

Traditional Public School

Charter School

A

18 5

B

28 4

C

64

3

D 28

4

F 6

2

I (Did not test 95 percent or more of its students) 5

2

Linda Eldridge, the director of educational leadership programs at the University of Florida College of Education, does not consider herself an expert on charter schools, but she said she does expect a greater emphasis on school choice and charter schools over the next few years.

“Parents have become much more interested in having a voice in where their child is educated,” said Eldridge, who calls herself a proponent of school choice, which ties into the growing popularity of charter schools.

One thing about charter schools that Eldridge said is important: school board governance.

“There is a lot to be said for a school board monitoring the situation in charter schools.”

A majority of the area’s the charter schools — 11 of the 20 — are in Alachua County. Marion County, the region’s largest county, has three; Putnam County has three; and Madison and Columbia counties each have one. Six of the region’s eleven counties do not have any charter schools.

Similar to the trend statewide, seven of the charter schools saw a drop in the school grade. Four charter schools, all in Alachua County, bumped up grades.

Charter schools in the area, as a whole, fared better: half of the charter schools received A or B grades, compared to 32 percent of traditional public schools.

A school is required to test 95 percent of its students to receive a grade, so two of the charter schools and five of the traditional public schools did not receive grades after not testing enough of students.

Cathy Boehme, a legislative specialist at the Florida Education Association, the state’s public teachers’ union, said she thinks the state has great traditional public schools, noting that charter schools often hire “unspecialized teachers” to save money. Boehme is a former teacher.

The Florida Education Association provides the following on its website:

“Charter schools started off as an innovative idea. They were designed as an entrepreneurial model that emphasized experimentation and innovation. The idea was to see what might be applied to public schools as a whole.”

“But they’ve become something else entirely. While some charters adhere to the original idea, and have shown some success, many charters have become for-profit drivers for large corporations bent on taking over our public schools.”

M. David Miller, a director in the University of Florida College of Education’s School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education, was part of a group that did research on in-year teacher attrition (teachers who leave a school in the middle of the year) rates at charter schools. The group found that charter school rates for this are about double what they are in traditional public schools. Further, the teachers who replaced the teachers who left generally had less experience, he said.

“Teachers leaving creates an unstable environment,” said Miller, who has been with the college for about 27 years.

Average percent of economically disadvantaged students was about 81 percent at the traditional public schools, whereas it was about 71 percent at the charter schools that received grades.

The average percent of minority students at these schools was about even — 44 percent at charter school and 46 percent at public schools — when not accounting for differing numbers of students at the schools.

F.W. Buchholz High School in Alachua County reported that 30 percent of its students were economically disadvantaged — this was the lowest number for a public school.

Belmont Academy in Columbia County, one of the charter schools that received an A, reported that 2 percent of its students were economically disadvantaged (i.e. receiving free lunch), a lower number than any other school — charter or non-charter — that received a grade.

About TJ Pyche

TJ Pyche is a reporter for WUFT News. He can be reached at tpyche@ufl.edu or 352-392-6397 or 352-392-NEWS. Follow him at @tjpyche.

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2 comments

  1. a Chi-square test shows that the two distributions of grades (traditional vs charter) are not significantly different.

  2. What do these numbers mean? A percent of A, B, etc. schools would actually make sense.

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