Point of View

NC won’t find any school miracles to copy in Florida

May 3, 2013 

As a Florida mom, I find it hard to watch states with veto-proof majorities push and pass the same education reforms that have hurt our children and harmed our public schools.

North Carolina parents are right to worry about SB 337/State Charter School Review Board, which bypasses the authority of elected school boards to give political appointees the power to grow and fund charter schools. Equally concerning is SB 361 by Sen. Phil Berger – the Excellent Public Schools Act – that implements Florida’s A-F school grading system and ties high-stakes student test scores to teacher evaluations.

Florida has spent 14 heartbreaking years at the epicenter of a “Bold Education Reform” experiment brutally imposed by single party rule. We know where this is going. Mandatory third-grade retention morphs into fifth, eighth and 10th grades. For-profit charter chains, virtual charters and voucher schools are held to lower standards than traditional district schools. Diverted tax dollars fund separate and unequal school systems while drastic funding cuts starve traditional district schools.

Because of one, lone standardized test score, some AP high school students with 4.0 GPAs are forced to spend 90 minutes a day in “remediation.” We are not anti-test. We object to using a single test with known statistical flaws as the judge and jury for schools, teachers and students.

Raleigh has signed on with powerful outsiders who travel state to state pitching the “Florida Miracle” like so much snake oil. A few graphs and percentages persuaded North Carolina politicians to subject every public school child to a flawed experiment. It’s the same drill in 20 other states.

Lobbyists, virtual vendors, chamber types and politicians all sound the same frightening public school crisis alarm while scheming to divert public tax dollars meant for our neighborhood schools straight into private pockets.

North Carolina has been told its public schools are in dire straits, national rankings have fallen and there is a bad/greedy/lazy teacher behind every desk. Don’t believe it. Every one of us remembers at least one teacher who changed our lives. Millions of children have passed through your public schools and gone on to be successful citizens. The vast majority of children in North Carolina attend your vibrant public schools today.


Don’t believe the story about the A-F school grading system. Grades are based on high-stakes test scores and have little to do with what really goes on in a school. Tying teacher evaluations to student test scores monetizes our kids. Think about it. When every reward and punishment revolves around high-stakes test scores, an undeniable burden is placed on the shoulders of children.

There they sit, little third-graders, pressured to deliver the scores that will earn money and an A for their school, help teachers keep their jobs and save themselves from being labeled losers by the state.

For the record, Florida’s policy of mandatory third-grade retention is a proven drop-out predictor. Florida legislators refuse to add robust wrap-around services that improve student reading levels while allowing children to advance with their classmates. Why? When low-scoring third-graders are held back, a guaranteed bump in learning gains appears in fourth-grade test data. It’s this sort of slender “proof” that is used to convince states like North Carolina that Florida’s education reform agenda is a miracle.

There is no miracle in the heartbreak of defeated 14-year-olds trapped in fifth grade by an unforgiving policy.

For more than a century, hard-working people on every level have faithfully spent precious tax dollars building North Carolina public schools brick by brick. This extraordinary asset belongs to you.

Parents have the power to stop politicians from breaking public schools and selling them to the highest bidder. Your children are watching and innocently waiting. Demand something better for them. Despite overwhelming odds, a million empowered Florida parents stand in a diverse rock-solid alliance determined to change Tallahassee by making education a single voter issue.

Florida parents are with you. We know what it means to walk the path you now face. When it comes to our children, we are the Florida miracle. The “North Carolina miracle” will come from you.

Kathleen Oropeza is co-founder of FundEducationNow.org, a nonpartisan education advocacy group.

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