Florida's Worst Schools Aren't Improving

While one-quarter of low-performing charters closed over five years, 205 failing district campuses remain open
By: Kenric Ward | Posted: December 14, 2010 4:05 AM
Failed Test (Florida Failing Schools Story)

Credit: Sunshine State News Archives

Florida's lowest-performing schools are staying open, and they're not turning around, a new study reports.

Despite the imposition of statewide testing and accountability measures, "The vast majority of the state's low-performing charter and district schools failed to make notable improvements over five years," said David Stuit, author of the report, "Are Bad Schools Immortal?"

The national study tracked the lowest-performing elementary and middle schools, where student achievement ranked in the bottom 10 percent among 10 surveyed states.

In Florida, from 2004-2009:

  • Just one of the 206 lowest-performing district schools was classified as a "turnaround," meaning it raised pupil performance to above the 50th percentile. None of the 26 low-performing charters turned around.
  • Of the low-performing charter schools, 23 percent were closed versus 7 percent of district schools.
  • The state's district schools had the third highest rate of persistent low performance among the 10 states studied.

"In sum, neither Florida's charter sector nor its district sector is skilled at dramatically improving low-performing schools," wrote Stuit, a partner at Basis Policy Research.

Chester Finn, a former U.S. Department of Education official and head of the Thomas Fordham Institute, called the findings "alarming."

The study identified 21 percent of Florida's charter schools as low-performing and 9 percent of district schools as low-performing. Researchers attributed the higher share of low-performing charters to their location in higher-poverty, lower-income areas.

To see a complete list of Florida's low-performing schools, click on the attachment below.

Noting that the Obama administration has pledged $3.5 billion in Title I intervention funds, Fordham researcher Amber Winkler suggested that "more humility," not money, is most urgently needed.

"Schools need the freedom to try intensive strategies. But closure needs to be an option," she said.

Winkler cited one potential tool, the "Ohio death penalty," which mandates automatic closure of charter schools that fail to meet low-performance criteria.

"We also need to pay more attention to tough accountability on a system-wide basis," she added.

Florida's main charter authorizers are school districts, and some of the closures were triggered by those districts due to academic failings. Other closures were voluntary or were related to fiscal shortcomings.

Compared to their peers in the rest of the nation, Florida's low-performing charter schools were more likely to close.

The high rate of closures and the lack of turnarounds at charters surprised Stuit, who observed, "We would expect charters are more inclined to dramatic turnarounds through operational autonomy and incentives."

Charters are locally operated public schools, generally unfettered by union contracts and other bureaucratic regulations.

But charters' problems in Florida didn't let district schools off the hook: The report found that 87 percent of those schools (vs. 73 percent of charter) remained in the lowest quartile of scholastic performance after five years.

The only school to attain "turnaround" status was Stewart Street Elementary in Quincy.

In two case studies, Stuit's report cited:

Montessori Charter in Orlando. The Orange County School District yanked the campus' charter for persistently low academic performance after district officials discovered evidence that the school had accepted funds for students who were not enrolled and had assigned students to teachers who were not on official employment rolls.

Sunland Park Elementary in Fort Lauderdale.
Amid high staff turnover and three consecutive annual "F" grades from the Florida Department of Education, academic performance remains "stubbornly low" while the state seeks federal School Improvement Grant funds for the campus, which remains open.

Noting the national averages that showed "three-quarters of these (low-performing) schools are still open and still bad," Finn offered one slim ray of sunshine.

"It's bound to get better because it can't get worse," he concluded.


Contact Kenric Ward at or (772) 801-5341.

Comments (3)

8:56AM DEC 14TH 2010
Would I be wrong to guess that the worst schools in Florida are residing in historically Democrat run school districts? I think that if you see the worst schools nationally, they are all in Democrat controlled fiefdoms, established as Democrat for the past 50-75 years. Humm. Is there a connection?
11:22PM DEC 18TH 2010
Yawn! I've heard this all before...actually the higher eductated areas swing democrat. The reality is both parties are making off with the goods while we watch American Idol. Give it rest. Can't you have an indepent thought, you're just spouting the garbage that this Republican tool website promotes.
5:15PM DEC 20TH 2010
Hi, what about an idea that we have equally poor education for everyone so we can really have the level playing field utopia for us?

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