Florida education commissioner suggests critics have double standard with charter schools, vouchers

Do critics have a double standard when it comes to scrutinizing school choice options like charter schools and vouchers? Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson suggested as much in an interview published today by the Tampa Bay Times’ Gradebook education blog.

In response to a question from the Times editorial board, Robinson noted that charter schools that struggle academically and/or financially can be shut down (in Florida, that has happened many times) but that same ultimate penalty is rarely leveled at traditional public schools (off hand, we can’t think of any examples in Florida). “For the bad charter schools that aren’t working, they should close,” Robinson said.  “But for the traditional schools that have also failed a number of our kids, we don’t see the same level of righteous indignation.”

Robinson has deep roots in the school choice movement, having once served as president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. And interestingly enough, the editorial board’s questions focused mostly on choice options. Here are some other excerpts:

On testing accountability in voucher schools: “The private school curriculum isn’t aligned to what we test on the FCAT (the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test). So you’re comparing apples to oranges. At the same time, there are the Stanford tests, there are Iowas, there are other tests you can take. So I’m not against assessment. What I am saying is, simply saying because they don’t take the FCAT therefore they’re not accountable is not correct…. “

On charter schools vs. magnet schools: “Charters and magnets both are theme schools. Charters and magnets both are public. And charters and magnets both take money. You often find magnets cost more than charters. But yet people say charters take money from public schools. People say charters are creaming the best and brightest kids. I can tell you from looking at the scores, that’s not the case. And yet the magnet schools … are taking the best and brightest students … Magnet schools historically have been the largest public school choice program in the country, but also been more exclusive than other programs. And yet, all the angst we put on charters.”

On closing the achievement gap: “I’ve often said what you don’t have is a political gap problem as much as you have a political crap problem.  … If white kids are reading better than black, Latino, Hispanic or Native American kids, that’s not a reading problem. We know what it takes to get kids proficient in reading. The question is, are we willing to make the tough decisions, political decisions, to get the right resources – human and financial – into the schools or after-school programs … to make it happen?”


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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at rmatus@stepupforstudents.org or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at facebook.com/redefinedonline.

4 Comments

Hi Ron,

Do you have any data (or sources) on charter school closings that specify the reasons for closing. I am curious regarding the proportion that closed as a result of low student achievement compared to other reasons. Also it would be interesting to see achievement results for charters that closed for reasons other than student performance. Thanks.

Hi Grant,
I think the Florida Department of Education has that information for the Florida charters – and it’s probably on the DOE web site somewhere – but I could not quickly put my finger on it. In the meantime, the Center for Education Reform, which tracks this information closely, reported last December that 18.6 percent of charter closures nationally were due to academic reasons. You can see the report here:

http://www.edreform.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/StateOfCharterSchools_CER_Dec2011-Web-1.pdf

In an earlier report, CER said almost one third of the charters that had been closed in Florida through February 2009 had been closed for academic reasons. The link to that piece of the report is here:

http://www.charterschoolresearch.com/states/florida.htm

I too think it would be interesting to know the achievement results for charters that closed for reasons other than academics. I have not seen a breakdown of that type of info anywhere, but that’s not to say it isn’t out there. I’m sorry I don’t know enough about this subject to steer you in the right direction.

I hope that helps. Thanks for reading redefinED!

Bob Calder

Here is a site that keeps track of news stories. It is not exactly academic quality.
http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/search/label/*Florida

I don’t like the Commissioner’s premise that charters and public schools can be compared in terms of operational measurements. Public schools serve all comers while charters shape their populations at will. Magnets are nothing like charters in that many magnets exist for the purpose of racial balance. Closing charter schools happens because they have independent management that can only be controlled by closing. Public institutions can be altered substantially by changing management on a moment’s notice. That they don’t is a failure of institutional will, and is not structural.

There are several statements that don’t even look like they were uttered by a public official, they are so blatantly non sequiturs.

Doug Tuthill

Thanks for your comments Bob. I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but in Florida magnet schools tend be much more selective than charter schools. In my neighborhood in St. Petersburg, for example, we have an arts magnet at Gibbs High School, an International Baccalaureate magnet at St. Petersburg High School and a math and science magnet at Lakewood High School, and all three programs are very selective. The IB program in particular has historically had a waiting list. We also have magnet schools we call fundamental schools that are so oversubscribed most new slots are taken each year by the siblings of existing students.

None of the charter schools in our neighborhood have entrance requirements. So in the context of Florida, Commissioner Robinson’s comments about charters and magnets are accurate.

I agree with your assertion that magnets were created to facilitate voluntary school desegregation, but in Florida they have exacerbated the achievement gap by providing more resources to already advantaged students. And in the magnet school where I taught and the secondary magnet schools my two boys attended, there was little interaction between the magnet and non-magnet students. So while these magnet schools successfully desegregated the school buildings, the within-school interactions remained heavily segregated by race and economic class.

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