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NCLB Outrages

Fla. cracks down on F schools

Ohanian Comment: Now here's the NCLB solution: Kid doesn't read on grade level? Then don't admit him to your school. Solves a lot of problems. Except his.

The principal actually says that such a policy would result in "an immediate turnaround for the school." Am I missing something here? For eons the faculty room lament has been If only we had better kids. It's why some of us never hung out in faculty rooms.

Aren't we in the education business to educate kids? Especially kids who don't read on grade level? Note that there is no plan for these students--other than to get rid of them at one school.


SANFORD -- Florida education officials cracked down Tuesday on the state's repeat-F schools, a decision that will require Jones and Oak Ridge high schools and Ivey Lane Elementary in Orange County to be closed, handed over to a management company, switched to charter operation or restructured.

The state Board of Education also ordered that beginning in August 2006, four-time F school Jones will no longer admit ninth-graders who can't read at grade level.

Orange school officials quickly said they will choose restructuring over closing or farming out the troubled schools for others to run. Among the options: replacing teachers whose students scored poorly in this year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

"We're looking to see if everyone is carrying their share of the load," Superintendent Ron Blocker said.

Observers differed on whether the ban on poor readers was a blessing or curse for Jones, a source of community pride as Orlando's historically black high school.

"What an immediate turnaround it would be for the school," said Principal Lorenzo Phillips, envisioning a future Jones where all of the students can read at grade level and succeed in other courses.

But that's only if Jones High survives. Setting so high a bar for admission would shut school doors to the 90 percent of students who don't read at grade level.

"Our enrollment would be so low it would force our school to close," School Board member Kat Gordon said.

Despite a $51 million renovation, Jones already has too few students, with room for 500 more. Enrollment at the predominantly black school last year dropped by about 200 students, hitting 1,119 at year's end in May.

Because of the repeated F's, students were permitted to switch to higher-performing schools, and many bolted for the doors.

Florida's repeat-F schools are a nagging problem for a state in which nearly two-thirds of the 2,770 campuses graded this year earned an A or B from the Department of Education. Just 15 schools in nine districts around Florida are on that failure list, including the three in Orange County.

The plan adopted Tuesday during the state board's meeting at the Seminole County school headquarters reflects concern that tough action was needed.

Board members added the ban on poor readers at Jones to its plan at the last minute and did not work out where these students would attend school. It was uncertain whether they would remain in eighth grade, attend a special center or simply be distributed among other county high schools.

"There are going to have to be a lot of kids going somewhere else," Phillips said.

James Lawson, area superintendent for Orange schools, said 450 or more eighth-graders who can't read at grade level could be shut out of Jones under the state's plan.

Schools on the crackdown list received at least two F's in the past four years. Ivey Lane has two, Oak Ridge has three and Jones has four. Jones' record has won it particularly tough scrutiny from the state, along with Miami Edison High School in Miami-Dade County, which also has four F's.

"These schools we are focused on represent an academic catastrophe, like the hurricanes," said Jim Warford, state chancellor for elementary and secondary education.

The state board also took aim at poor-performing charter schools, ordering local districts to close any that receive two F's. That could seal the end of Bartow Charter School in Polk County, the only other Central Florida school on the crackdown list.

Districts have until July 19 to decide whether repeating F schools will be closed, chartered, contracted out or restructured.

The districts also must submit an action plan for improving the schools. Any plan for restructuring must convince state officials that substantial change will take place.

"If you walk into a school, you should see it is not like it was last year," said Mary Jane Tappen, who is in charge of school improvement for the state Department of Education.

Changes could involve administration, teachers and curriculum. The state has suggested creating career academies for high schools; two centering around financial and medical careers already are planned to open at Jones this fall.

The academies are expected to attract and keep better students at the school. Phillips said 50 students already have signed up.

But officials say the main problem at Jones is poor attendance: About 34 percent of students are absent 21 or more days each year, and students can't learn if they are not in school. Officials plan more contact with parents to improve attendance.

State officials said the 78 schools statewide that received F's this year, including the repeat-F schools, would share in $5.7 million from various sources for school improvements. Local school officials have complained that is not enough.

But the state plan says districts also must carve out a portion of their annual budgets and target that money toward improving the repeat-F schools.

One option to help Jones improve is to change the makeup of the student body through rezoning. Attendance zones for Jones, Boone, Evans and Edgewater high schools -- and perhaps others -- could be juggled to shift the racial and socioeconomic makeup of each.

"But the School Board won't touch that with a 10-foot pole," board member Gordon predicted.

Parents from Edgewater and other schools would be up in arms, officials said. Jones alumni and parents, who are protective of the school's heritage and place in the black community, might object, too.

dweber@orlandosentinel.com

— Dave Weber
Orlando Sentinel
2005-06-22
http://tinyurl.com/833zk


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