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Equipping Florida Parents to Expose Jeb Bush’s Florida Education “Miracle”

March 6, 2014

The purpose of this post is to provide a brief summary for Florida parents regarding the failure of the spectrum of so-called education “reforms” introduced and advanced by former Governor Jeb Bush (1999 – 2007).

I have written this brief, two-page “talking points” Word doc to complement the contents of this post. Thus, parents can use the “talking points” as a quick reference in school board meetings and legislative hearings and use the contents of this post for a more detailed explanation of the talking points (complete with links to references supporting each point).

In this post, I address the spectrum of Florida education “reform,” including school letter grades; graduation rates; charters, vouchers, and virtual schools; teacher evaluation; third-grade retention, and “declaring” Florida high school graduates as “college ready.”

A – F School Letter Grades

A major problem with the school letter grades is their susceptibility to manipulation. In fact, former Florida Superintendent Tony Bennett was forced to resign in August 2013 after emails implicated him in fixing a charter school letter grade during his time as superintendent in Indiana.

Letter grade formulas are also endlessly manipulated. Politico notes, “In Florida, for instance, the legislature has tinkered with the A-F school grading formula at least two dozen times in recent years. … Last year, alarmed that so many Florida students failed a new writing exam, the state board of education quickly lowered the passing score to boost more kids over the bar.”

A letter grade system that changes from year to year is useless. The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) tries to promote school letter grade changes as good and also presents information on “improvement” based on their ever-changing letter grade calculations, but don’t let them fool you. Tell them that you know school letter grade comparisons are meaningless unless tests, and scoring, and all other parts of the formula (including student information) are kept exactly the same from year to year.

In 2012, FDOE botched its school letter grade calculations for 213 schools and had to correct them following publication.

Graduation Rates

Florida’s graduation rate has been among the lowest for years.  In 2001-02, Florida’s graduation rate was among the bottom five states. In 2010-11, it was among the bottom seven (three states did not have rates calculated).

The 2010-11 calculation is a better measure for state-to-state comparison since the 2001-02 rate was not calculated uniformly for all states.

For 2012-13, Florida reports its overall graduation rate as 75.6%, up from  70.6% in 2010-11.  This article attributes the rise in Florida school district graduation rates– which varies widely from district to district– to an emphasis on college preparedness–and the ACT test. Yet Florida was in the bottom six states for its average ACT score of 19.8 in 2012.

(For comparison sake: Alabama has a 2012-13 graduation rate of 80% and a 2012 average ACT of 20.3, and it does not promote establishing charter schools or grading teachers using student test scores.)

Charter Schools

Based upon the unstable, ever-changing Florida school letter grade system, Bush-favored charters are not faring well. In 2012, more Florida charters scored A’s– and more scored F’s. (This article includes a caveat regarding FDOE’s having to correct 213 school grades that it incorrectly calculated. When calculation formulas are constantly changing, errors in calculation are much more likely.)

FDOE does not properly regulate Florida charter schools. The USDOE was informed of Florida’s lack of charter oversight in this September 2012 audit. One result of this lack of proper oversight is this story of a Florida charter school that paid its principal of only 180 students $519,000 after the school was slated to close and paid her husband $460,000.

Lack of charter accountability before the public coupled with the ability to manipulate school letter grades enabled Former Florida Superintendent Tony Bennett to change an Indiana charter school’s letter grade– a charter founded by someone who donated millions to Republicans– including $130,000 to Bennett.


As is true for Florida charters, Florida vouchers also lack proper oversight. One Florida voucher program, the McKay Scholarship Program, supposedly provides vouchers for special needs students. However, McKay schools have no curriculum requirements and no accreditation standards. Thus, there is zero accountability for those teaching Florida students receiving McKay Scholarship money.

Florida also has a tax credit voucher program known as the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program, in which businesses donate money to send lower-income students to private schools in exchange for tax credits. The use of tax credits is a “back door” means to paying public money for students to attend private schools.

There is a current legislative push for Florida sales tax revenue to bypass the state and to be sent directly to “scholarship organizations.” Again, this is an underhanded way to use public money to finance private school education in Florida.

The final flaw regarding Florida voucher “success” is that no means exists for evaluating the effectiveness of Florida vouchers. Florida legislators wish to expand the corporate tax credit voucher program. Only one– Florida Senate President Don Gaetz– is pushing for voucher school accountability.

Virtual Schools

Lack of proper oversight is the common theme for Bush-promoted “alternative learning” in the form of charters, vouchers, and now, virtual schools. One for-profit virtual learning company in Florida, K12, was investigated in 2012 for a cover-up regarding its using uncertified teachers and having certified teachers sign for uncertified teachers’ class rosters– which made it appear that some teachers had classes of up to 275 students.

The quality of education via virtual schools (also known as online schools or cyber charters) is highly suspect. Oversight is definitely needed.

Teacher Evaluation

Evaluating teachers using student test scores (known as “value added modeling,” or VAM) does not work.  Directly attributing “pieces” of student learning to specific teachers in specific classrooms via student test scores is a mathematical impossibility– this shows up in huge “margins of error” for teacher scores. (The margins of error for many Florida teacher VAM scores is so large that it is like saying, “We think the bullet hit the bullseye; however, it could have completely missed the target.”)

Moreover, in 2012— the same year that FDOE botched school letter grade calculations– FDOE miscalculated its teacher evaluations. FDOE had to retract the information only hours following its release.

In 2014, FDOE “flunked” a number of its Teacher of the Year winners and finalists using VAM. This is what happens when professional contribution and quality human interaction are replaced by numbers input into a mathematical formula: Common-sense-defying foolishness.

Third Grade Retention

Jeb Bush tried to erase social promotion in the third grade by holding back number of third graders. It did not work. Instead, Florida ended up failing a disproportionate number of minority students. Having these students repeat third grade offered the illusion of testing gains for fourth graders taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). (Third graders do not take NAEP.) In short, if more lower-performing students are kept out of fourth grade, then the resulting fourth-grade NAEP score improvement is misleading.

Read here about parents’ rights to exempt children from mandatory retention in Florida. Unfortunately, some students must be retained for two years until retention is determined to be itself a failure.

Hiding Bush’s Failure: The “College Ready” Declaration

In 2013, the Florida legislature passed a bill that declares high school graduates as “college ready” and places all in for-credit college courses. In doing so, the legislature has decided that ignoring a problem will make it disappear. What such legislation allows Florida to do is to state publicly that all of its graduates are “college ready”– whether they really are or not.

The point of such “college ready” legislation is to absolve Florida policy makers (including former Governor Jeb Bush himself) from any responsibility associated with their numerous decisions regarding the ever-changing school letter grades– or lack of accountability for Florida charters, vouchers, and online schools– or inaccurate, damaging teacher evaluation policies– or arguably-abusive retention legislation. After all, it certainly would make the failure of the Jeb-Bush-promoted Florida education reform “miracle” obvious if Florida graduates required remedial coursework in order to enter college.

In Closing: Accountability Needed

Florida legislators and other officials in positions of authority need to be held accountable for their decisions regarding the education of Florida’s public school students. My intention in writing this post (and the attached talking-point Word doc) is to equip Florida parents to do just that.

The Jeb Bush Florida Education “Miracle” is a sham, Florida parents. Tell all who will listen that you know so. Hold Florida’s elected officials accountable for what they are inflicting upon your children.

  1. Laura h. Chapman permalink

    Talking points informed by facts and stats. I like that. I hope you can help to recruit parents in Florida for the cause. Scary things are happening in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Parents who have to invest in education are scarce, and perhaps that is worse in Florida where so many citizens are retirees.

  2. I think this is great, you might want to bring up the proliferation of TFA and here is a link to the 250 plus charter schools that have opened and failed.

    Click to access closed_charter_schools.pdf

  3. Thanks. I have been blogging about this for a while. There is another little secret that nobody wants out. There is a program in FL districts that allows students to pay money to private groups to “buy” credit. In my district it is called “BYU” (Buy Your Grade U) and kids must pay about $300 for a half credit. I asked a student how it worked. The student said it takes about three weeks. If you pay- you pass. You are given some worksheets to do and some videos to watch. The students meet at a local restaurant to “compare” answers and submit “work.”

  4. tealgarrett permalink

    I’m not advocating for Jeb Bush or any administration, but there is some misinformation that I feel should be addressed here. There is plenty of data that supports alternative education. Private schools have outperformed public schools for decades. Charter schools are doing the same in many places. Yes, there are plenty of bad charter schools, and they need to be shut down. Using extreme examples does an injustice to the many excellent charter schools in the state. More oversight is absolutely needed, in several areas though, not just with alternative education. Districts are notorious for misusing funds to the point of absurd amounts of waste. The amount of bureaucracy in any one school district alone is cause for alarm. The argument against vouchers is one I’ll never fully understand. If public schools are inadequately educating certain students (which your graduation rate numbers would verify), isn’t it the state’s obligation to provide other avenues for learning? As to the teacher evaluation critiques- I fully acknowledge there are things to be improved upon there, but it’s completely irresponsible of an education system not to evaluate its teachers. If a significant number of a teacher’s students are not learning and not progressing academically, which is to be the goal of any classroom, then there is very clear reason to be concerned about the effectiveness of that teacher. I know it’s an argument not worth fighting here, but there are a lot of bad teachers out there and it’s a problem that needs to be addressed. That starts with a thorough evaluation process. You hit the nail on the head when you talk about oversight. The FLDOE is consistently irresponsible in managing the school districts of this state and we desperately need to increase accountability at every level if we are to ever expect it from individual students.

    • Private schools have the luxury of choosing their student bodies. The students those outperforming private schools discard end up in public school. Bush reforms are only contributing to a divided, “have” vs. “have not” system.

      That said, there is still immense potential for voucher fraud. The McKay Scholarships are proof of this. Voucher money needs to be tracked and the quality of education provided for such money evaluated.

      Your argument for “a lot” of “bad” teachers does not make VAM work. And you make a gross assumption about the number of “bad” teachers.
      You want “bad” teachers? Then allow for Teach for America temp teachers to take permanent teachers’ jobs. Allow for them to come in and focus all on raising test scores. Allow charters to employ people not even certified to teach. Allow virtual schools to do whatever they wish with students and call it “education.”

      Bush’s reforms lack accountability to the American public.

      Here is also “bad”: Allow for under-regulated privatization of schools. Allow hedge fund managers to call the shots in education policy (such is happening in New York right now) by donating to politicians who will bend to the hedge fund managers’ will as concerns charter school preference.

      • Debbie Higginbotham permalink

        Thanks for this accurate reply!!!

    • rsolnet permalink

      Hi – I’m from Florida too. I believe the argument against vouchers is this —

      1) You’re taking public dollars and handing it to private entities with absolutely no oversight
      2) The voucher money is not a separate bucket of dollars. It’s drained from public school allocations thus leaving existing public schools weaker and at a tremendous disadvantage — never being allowed to strengthen their schools — rather always on receiving end of more and more budget cuts.

      3) Voucher programs were examined over 20+ yrs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, DC. They failed. Research proves that.

      4) Also, I believe North Carolina and Louisiana courts recently struck down voucher proposals citing they are in conflict with their state’s constitution.

      5) Finally, FL put this to the voters several times. Florida citizens in 2010 (I believe) voted this down 57%.

      Do our legislators care what the Florida voters have to say?

      • tealgarrett permalink

        Rsolnet – If the people don’t want it, then that should be the end of that discussion in Tallahassee. Fair enough.

        I think it’s still worth discussing for future decisions though. As to your first point about oversight, that’s not entirely accurate. The state can dictate their own level of oversight for schools enrolling students on vouchers. Voucher programs are essentially the government outsourcing education; not really a radical concept when put in perspective. And those public dollars that you mention are specifically purposed for an individual child’s education. Why shouldn’t that family have a say in where they cash that funding in? Schools receive funds on a per pupil basis. There is a standard allocation for each student, so nothing is being “drained” as you say. Even if the student’s parents pay private school tuition, the public school still loses money by having that empty desk, just as they would if the student were to drop out. As for the research, we can compare studies all day long that will disagree about voucher effectiveness. The NC/LA point is pretty irrelevant since we have a different constitution and separate legal jurisdiction from those decisions. Just because programs are unpopular in some places doesn’t mean they can’t be effective elsewhere.

        If we want to see educational improvement in Florida, I promise you it will not come from doing more of the same old things. I’m not touting vouchers or school choice in general as any sort of silver bullet, but we need to be more open to new options for students, because the current status quo is not working.

  5. rsolnet permalink

    Hi Mercedes,

    Residing in another state, you’re understandably unaware of what we’re experiencing in Florida, especially since the proposed bills unfolded within the past 72 hrs. Given your article, I felt I must share this.

    Three of the most egregious bills ever filed in Florida simply MUST be defeated.

    1) The Voucher Expansion bill
    This is the beginning of the end of FL public schools as it opens vouchers up to families with higher income. (Note: Although Senator Gaetz is not the only legislator calling for voucher school accountability as your article indicated). The outcome of hearings the past few days in Tallahassee make it very apparent that this bill has a great deal of traction and a powerful sponsor.

    2) The Charter Expansion bill
    This bill will expedite the complete decimation of public schools in FL and strip away even more authority (and dollars) from local School Boards and school districts. .

    3) The Financial Accountability/ROI bill
    This is a tricky bill with a highly misleading name.This bill mandates ever stricter financial accountability on traditional PUBLIC SCHOOLS only –demanding they demonstrate their Return on Investment to Florida’s citizens. Voucher schools and charter schools would be exempt from this and many other elements of this repulsive bill.. As a bonus feature, this bill also strips 14 public schools from their communities and hands them over to charter operators (as a so-called pilot program). Michelle Rhee’s Students First organization had a hand in drafting and promoting this legislation in Florida.

    Combine these three bills with a plethora of other harmful clauses being tucked into seemingly benign bills and you’ll see that the Florida Legislature has decided to go for broke this year.

    Our session began March 3rd. Florida parents such as Parents Across Florida,; Fund Education FL; Testing Is Not Teaching; Alliance for Public Schools; LULAC;, PTA Leadership;, Tri Cities Parents, League of Women Voters chapters and others are now in the process of informing their colleagues of the danger this legislative session brings.

    We will continue to distribute action items and talking points to defeat these bills. We prioritize and then strategize our efforts so that we are not expending energy and resources on bills of lesser impact on children. We disseminate information, as always, under the radar and away from the watchful eyes of our ever vigilant opponents. So while I plan to write about these three bills for public consumption, I won’t tip our hand as to how we plan to counter the elements of each bill.

    Florida parents have demanded accountability of our legislature and of our Bd of Ed for over six (6) years. We fought, and won, some extremely challenging battles with a GOP-governed legislature (example, our Senate has 26 Republicans-14 Democrats. We must sway a minimum of 6 legislator’s votes to defeat any bill in the Senate.)

    We spend our summers aligning with powerful FL lobbying groups, such as the League of Women Voters, NOW, Urban Leagues in local counties, League of United Latin American Citizens, PTA/PTSAs, Democratic Women’s Caucus,and, yes even some Chambers of Commerce are forming alliances with us. We have, I believe, a lobbying force of approximately 970K-1.2M members right now that would not have occurred without the persistent efforts of Fund Education FL.

    Your article is a great summary detailing some of the issues Florida parents and taxpayers have faced with the FL Board of Education who were hand-picked/approved by former Governor Jeb Bush for the past decade and a half. Florida also experienced five (5) Education Commissioners in the past four years –also selected and approved by Jeb. Jeb Bush’s thumbprint continues to be found on every education program or policy change. Most of the cockamamie education reform proposals that turn into legislative bills are drafted in Jeb’s Foundation for Florida’s Future or Jeb’s Foundation for Excellence in Education’s offices. His lobbyists walk the halls of the Tallahassee Capitol aggressively pushing their ed reform bill du jour.

    Florida parents are up against it. But, we’ve grown larger. And, because of how we approach these challenges–with integrity and fairness and respect –we’ve become a credible source to many legislative aides and to those in the local press.

    Diane Ravitch alluded to this notiion as well that, sadly, those who propose or support such harmful legislation to children really don’t care about facts. Time and again we’ve discovered that we must find the hook, the anecdotal story, the element of the bill that their base cannot live with.

    Many of these legislators owe their jobs, their campaigns, their previous positions to Jeb Bush. Jeb has very loyal followers and many friends in Tallahassee. Unfortunately, hanging our opposition on exposing Jeb Bush’s education disaster to his friends won’t defeat these bills. Remember, too, that they proudly stood by him when they passed the original test-crazed bills and voucher and charter bills so you’re slapping many of them in the face simultaneously.

    Florida parents expose the ties to Jeb Bush and the truth to the miracle claims repeatedly and we’ll continue to do that in the press. However, when it comes to defeating legislation, that tactic frequently gets doors slammed in our faces.

    Just the other day I testifed at a Board meeting and said… “instead of setting up another Fact-Finding Committee, perhaps you should set up a “Fact-Facing Committee.”

    We must keep our eye on the prize which is to defeat these three bills. For Florida parents to shift their focus on Jeb right now — mid legislative season — is not prudent. Unfortunately, they won’t listen to that. Come June – October, we’ll press forward again to expose those truths and ties that bind.

    • Rsolnet, I was asked to write a post for Florida parents in which I demonstrate that each of Jeb Bush’s so-called “reforms” is a bust, and that is what I did. How Florida parents choose to use my work– if they choose to use it– is certainly their decision.

    • Thank you. I have a book coming out in a couple of months, and I have two chapters on Jeb Bush and a third chapter on his FFF/FEE/C4C organizations. In these chapters, I systematically dismantle his “miracles.”

  6. I have a “geraldhollis” trying to post using the same email as the “tealgarrett” commenter. Not allowed. Individuals must have unique emails in order to comment on my blog.

  7. Thank you so much! I will use your information a lot, as I address people related to our ministry here to inner city kids (all of whom are impacted by Gov. Jindal’s school “reform”). And Hy’s radio show, The Founder’s Show, will be a good place to sound the multiple alarms. And we need to sound those alarms out loud, since Jeb Bush wants to run for President. Thanks for putting it all down briefly and succinctly. Blessings, Hy and LIBBA McEnery

    Sent from my iPad

  8. Detroiter permalink

    Hi Mercedes. Thanks for all you do. Do you have any data and/or opinions on county-wide school boards, which I hear are being pushed by ALEC, and are prevalent in Florida? Obviously they prefer mayoral or state control, but I am hearing this also being promoted. Thanks again.

    • Hi, Detroiter. I have no specifics, but my constant opinion is to beware of mega out-of-state funding poured into school board elections. Also beware if groups like Parent Revolution or Stand for Children show up.

      Whatever the moneyed individuals are advocating, do the opposite.

    • Hi! I live in Florida. ALEC, along with Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee, promote ‘mayoral control’. That concept has crept into FL now.

      For the past three years, various Senators filed legislation to eliminate school boards entirely. (One year the legislation proposed to eliminate compensation for school boards thinking that would eliminate intelligent, professional individuals. In other years it was to vaporize school boards entirely.).

      Note: FL has 67 school districts. Each school board is managed differently. Most are elected via non partisan elections and most are paid – approximately what entry level teachers salary is- In Palm Beach County, for instance, I believe it is approx $38K annually)

      For example, My district is the 10th largest district in the US. We have 4 board seats (out of 7) up for grabs. We’ve observed GOP activity pouring money into candidates no one has ever heard of. Sometimes these people are literally just deposited into the area to run whereby they must rent an apartment to satisfy the residency criteria. We won two years ago over a pro-privatization agenda’d candidate who raised 8X the money our pro public school advocate did.

      Each year that gets more and more difficult to win. This year we must split our resources and volunteer staff among four different races simultaneously in addition to a Gubernatorial race. where ALEC dumps far more money and resources into.

      We have the additional problem of Step Up for Children (who’s admitted spending nearly $1.8M for marketing the voucher bill. Then Michelle Rhee’s Students First set up shop in FL. They’re marketing the Voucher & Charter bills and have a high priced staff of professionals charged with Parent Outreach missions. Combine all of that with two extremely powerful charter lobbies known as the Charter Consortium and the Charter Alliance both run by very powerful , richly endowed charter lobbyists who are generous with legislator’s campaigns.

      We are up against it. But remember in the end it all comes down to votes. How many doors we knock on. How many calls we make. How many absentee ballots we can get in and get counted. If you have an army of well organized volunteers (we do), we can pull off wins for the good guys. Sorry for the rambling — I’m trying to do three things at once! Best to you – feel free to contact me at any time or, @ritacolleen on twitter; or, Parents Across FL Facebook or Testing Is Not Teaching Facebook.

  9. PS I agree with Mercedes advice — take the opposite stance when these organizations appear and hype their corporate reforms/ and privatization programs.

    One more thing on mayoral control — One way to begin to yank control away from FL’s school boards is happening already. In our district, the West Palm Beach Mayor requested permission to open up a charter school. That school hasn’t even opened and yet the Mayor is back appealing to the school board requesting opening more charters. The Mayor has also asked to use existing public school building properties (that are in use!)

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that within 18- 24 months or so, the WPB Mayor will propose ta takeover of every WPB school to be run by the city. This is how they creep in their grandiose schemes.

    This drip, drip, drip of the morphine must be monitored everywhere. School boards must learn to say no and look at the big picture instead of showing that they are ‘cooperating with the community” just this one time.” They are only now realizing that this will never end.

  10. Reblogged this on Teachers in and commented:
    It is gratifying to know that perhaps all is not lost already with regard to the truth about the harm that has been done and is being done to public education. This is another example of people doing their homework and shedding light on the issue along with their truth telling. Thank you to Mercedes Schneider for her tireless work in this area.

  11. Dottie permalink

    Mercedes, We need your expertise here in Arizona, as well. Our legislature is probably going to pass a voucher bill this week:
    Parents don’t seem to get how bad this is going to be for our state. The Goldwater Institute is behind this. Thanks for any assistance.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Equipping Florida Parents to Expose Jeb Bush’s Florida Education “Miracle” by Mercedes Schneider | Reclaim Reform
  2. Schneider to Florida Parents: The Jeb Bush “Miracle” Is a Sham | Diane Ravitch's blog
  3. Schneider to Florida Parents: The Jeb Bush “Miracle” Is a Sham | Educational Policy Information
  4. Trump distracts to make Jeb’s horrific record on education, etc. appear “normal” | Reclaim Reform
  5. Why-Jeb-Bush-Could-Not-Answer-Common-Core-Question-at-Debate | willispebble
  6. New Orleans Schools’ 2017 District Grade: Big Flop. | deutsch29
  7. Betsy DeVos Belatedly Discovers the 1983 Report, A Nation At Risk, and Gallup | deutsch29

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