Bryan C. Hassel, Michelle Godard Terrell, and Julie Kowal
With the heat and humidity descending on Washington and points south, it seemed a fine time to review Education Sector's latest report, an examination of Florida charter schools. It's part of an ongoing series of case studies (begun at the Progressive Policy Institute) that analyze "state and urban experiences with charter schooling." Why hot and humid? Perhaps because Florida charters are flourishing in the Sunshine State's greenhouse-like environment, nurtured by rapid population growth and increasingly bipartisan support. While charters in Florida have faced resistance from the usual quarters, in 2006 "the Florida School Boards Association, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, and the Florida Education Association decided to neither support nor oppose charter school legislation in their legislative platforms. Instead they planned to battle Florida's school voucher programs." Unfortunately, those battles against vouchers have been somewhat successful (see here), but on the bright side they may have provided political cover for charter schools to expand with relative ease. Thus, in one decade Florida has gone from five charter schools to 334. But even in this steamy climate of spawning, the Sunshine State's charter schools face problems. "Most notably," the authors write, "the second half of the charter school autonomy-accountability bargain has been largely unfulfilled." That is, low-performing charter schools in Florida are not being shut down. Other findings are routine: Florida's charter schools are underfunded, district authorizing is ineffective, and student achievement is mixed. The study offers some solutions: enhance the quality of, and open alternate routes to, charter school authorizing (Florida just passed legislation which does this); require authorizers to crack down on low-performing schools; equalize charter school and district-school funding; and coalesce the state's splintered charter support organizations. Educators, policymakers, and Florida parents could all benefit from this comprehensive study. Kick off your shoes, mix a fresh mojito, and read the report here.