Schools close book on deals on cutting class
Ohanian Comment: Yes, this is filed under NCLB--because such contracts are aimed at pushing off kids with low FCAT scores. At Steve Orel documented in Birmingham, AL, schools that need to improve their scores get rid of probable low scorers. Steve established the WOO to rescue these students.
Kudos to reporters at The Broward Times for asking good questions. We need lots more reporters asking those kinds of questions--instead of recycling press releases. And kuds, too, for avoiding euphemism: FCAT cleansing is an accurate term.
Here are the forms that students had to sign: http://www.miami.com/multimedia/miami/news/contract.pdf
By Hannah Sampson
Broward's interim schools superintendent said principals will stop asking students to sign contracts agreeing that they could be kicked out of school for violating academic or attendance rules.
Interim Superintendent Jim Notter ordered principals to stop using the contracts on Wednesday, after The Broward Times, a weekly newspaper, started asking questions about the agreements.
The newspaper published an article Thursday charging that some principals were using the contracts as a way to push underperforming students out of school so their scores would not be counted against the school in the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
The newspaper described the practice as ``FCAT cleansing.''
Student FCAT scores determine a school's overall grade from the state as well as bonuses for school staff.
Notter issued a memo telling principals to stop using the contracts.
''This practice is not consistent with School Board policy and is to be immediately discontinued,'' he wrote.
It is still not clear how many schools use the contracts, how many students have been asked to sign them and how many have been pulled out of school for violating the agreements.
They have typically been given to older high school students who were at high risk of dropping out.
Deborah Burgess, whose 18-year-old son is a senior at J.P. Taravella High in Coral Springs, was stunned when she found her her ex-husband had signed such a form for their son.
'I said, `Oh no, uh-uh, this is not right,' '' she said Friday. ``You're setting up these children for failure and not success. Schools are supposed to set up our children for success.''
Notter said it would be premature to say whether the FCAT had anything to do with the contracts, but said that if any patterns emerged to suggest that, the district would look into it.
'It is not acceptable to `FCAT cleanse' in this district,'' he said.
Examples of contracts from at least four high schools were made available Friday: Deerfield Beach, Flanagan, J.P. Taravella and McArthur.
The agreements come in many forms and their demands vary.
At Deerfield Beach High, it is called a ''contract for success'' and includes seven rules including no cutting class or showing up late.
At McArthur High in Hollywood, the ''letter of agreement'' says a student must agree, among other things, to finish all homework assignments on time, stay out of trouble and stay awake in class.
The agreement also says that while students must go to school until they turn 16, after that age ``a student should consider it a privilege to be able to attend school and to acquire a free education.''
Two Broward School Board members said they think the contracts were aimed at chasing away kids likely to score poorly in the FCAT.
Board member Robin Bartleman said she was ''infuriated'' when she heard about the contracts.
''It's our job to ensure that every child gets an education no matter what their GPA is or whether they're not going to have a great FCAT score,'' she said. ``It's unacceptable for a public school system.''
She said she wants to make sure any children who were withdrawn will get the help they need.
The contract that was used by Taravella and Flanagan said that students acknowledged they could be withdrawn for failure to comply and ``I should explore other educational avenues. I also understand that withdrawal from school may have an impact on my future earning potential.''
The district's alternatives for students with academic issues range from a charter school that allows students to finish their classes using computers to centers where kids can get intensive help in reading and prepare for the GED. Board member Stephanie Kraft said she is worried that students have dropped out instead of going to an alternative program.
''The concern is that we're really just throwing away these kids,'' she said. ``We're giving up on them.''
Notter said some of the contracts he has seen so far seemed to say flat-out that if students fail to do a list of things, they would be kicked out.
''I do not believe that that is the independent choice of a school,'' he said. ``We have a publicly elected board that we take our expulsions to.''
He pointed out that even expelled students are given the opportunity to get an education.
The ultimate goal, Notter said, is for the district to come up with a consistent way to help guide students who are at the highest risk of not graduating.
Burgess, whose son received a contract in August, said she worries that the agreements are planting the idea of dropping out in the minds of students who would not have considered it.
She said her son is being tested for a learning disability and wants to graduate and go to college.
''I'm just doing all of this to try to save children's futures and to make sure that my son's future gets somewhat fixed and he's set up for success, not failure,'' she said.
Miami Herald staff writer Nirvi Shah contributed to this report.
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