Florida offers look at problems with education law

While the number of schools in Florida that earned an “A” on the state’s annual report card has steadily increased, the number meeting No Child Left Behind requirements has dramatically decreased. Last year, just 10 percent of Florida elementary, middle, and high schools met the annual proficiency benchmarks required under the federal law.

“Are we saying over 90 percent of schools are ‘failing?'” Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said. “The answer is no.”

In many of the schools, just one group of students was behind. At Miami’s Norma Butler Bossard Elementary, a majority Hispanic school, 78 percent of poor students scored at grade level in reading—one point behind the No Child Left Behind target. English language learners lagged behind by nine points in reading and two in math. The majority, however, were performing above the goals set by the law.

“It was confusing to parents and students and teachers when you get two sets of criteria and two sets of grades,” said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. “You begin to wonder which one’s real.”

Then there are schools like Holmes Elementary, a school in a struggling neighborhood north of Miami’s downtown. Just 18 percent of students were at grade level in math in the 2002-03 school year. By last year, that number had jumped to 65 percent—a 47 percentage-point percent increase. Yet students still had not caught up to the rising numbers expected under No Child Left Behind, and the school had been in danger of being closed next year.

“That is an iconic school in Miami,” Carvalho said. “The previous performance was not acceptable, and we changed everything about that school.”

Closing it, he said, “would have been extinguishing the beacon of hope.”

Robinson is reluctant to say No Child Left Behind didn’t work—he praised it for shining a light on the performance of all student subgroups—but says that over time, it rubbed up against the state’s accountability system.

“It just didn’t make any sense,” he said.

Many also say the 2014 goal to have all students proficient in math and reading is unrealistic.

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