I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Florida Considering Raising Dropout Age from 16 to 18. Could This be a Classroom Discipline "Perfect Storm"?

Some media outlets are reporting that there is a movement in the Florida Legislature to change the compulsory education law in Florida to mandate attendance in school through age 18.  Currently 22 states have laws requiring attendance until age 18;  Eight states require attendance through age 17.

Obviously we all want students to stay in school and graduate.  That's the objective, that's the goal.

But at what cost?  Will this be fully funded?

I'll be following this issue with great interest this legislative session, and the biggest concern I have is how this might create further discipline issues in the classroom. If students are 16-18 and have had limited academic successes, and want to quit, but can't--what will happen? We already have some students in the schools that hate school-they Christmas tree answers on important tests and sleep through classes in many cases.   In other instances they either do not show up, or when they do they create daily disruptions for other students and staff members who are there to do their jobs--I just can't help but wonder if this change will exacerbate this problem?

One Utah lawmaker wants to end compulsory education, for interesting reasons--many of which are valid..

This well written article gives some interesting perspective on ending compulsory education.

Locally-changing this policy could have positive and negative effects--but I worry about pressure to minimize infractions and discipline based upon who commits the offenses....This is a real concern.

And with some social justice organizations looking at our discipline statistics, already pointing fingers and making accusations of institutional racism based upon the expulsion data, I wonder if this age for leaving school change will make it even more difficult to discipline those who are actually  deserving of punishment.  What these social justice organizations don't realize (or maybe they really do and don't want to let on) is that

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Graduation Rates In Escambia County Part 2: How Are Similar Counties Doing?

We have made some headway in our overall graduation rates over the last decade in Escambia County, no doubt about it. But, how do we improve our 4 year, on-time, graduation rate? This metric is a huge part of our district letter grade-and it is the component that drags our grade down. It is also a huge factor in our individual school grades. Tate and Northview would have been “A” Schools if not for the lack of progress among the lowest quartile of students at these schools—students that were more than likely ill-prepared for the rigor of High School when they were “moved ahead”. There are many ideas, suggestions, and solutions to increasing the four year graduation rate—but what is working right now? If we look at similar sized counties around Florida, there are many that have significantly better four year graduation rates than do we in Escambia. What are the reasons for this? I’ve heard that it’s because we have a higher percentage of ESE students than anyone-so I looked at figure 18 of the 2012-2013 ESE membership document at the DOE Stats page and worked out the percentages for us as well as our peer counties. Escambia has a high percentage—but so do other counties-next reason. What about poverty? We have areas of concentrated, generational poverty—this is the reason, right? Not so fast, I went to the U.S. Census Quick facts page here, and as I have illustrated in the above chart-there are other counties with lower per-capita incomes that have better graduation rates. What about demographics-we have a high minority population-so this must be the reason, right? Wrong. This interactive map from the last U.S. Census shows the demographic breakdown of every county in Florida (and in the US—it is an awesome tool) Duval County has a larger minority population than does Escambia, so does Leon. Both of those counties have graduation rates in the 70s (Leon is 77%!) yet Escambia county is stuck in the low 60’s… But we're told our five year rate is better--so I went here and went to the five year graduation rate by race and school, I downloaded the spreadsheet, and did the calculations in excel. Even the five year rate puts us behind our peers in the chart. So what is the reason for this issue? What Gives? I have a hunch that a large part of the reason our numbers are low is that we are socially promoting students into High School –students that have not yet mastered the skills necessary to be successful in High School. We do this for a variety of reasons….We have some middle schoolers that are 2,3, or more years behind—gotta move em’ up. We let students fail multiple classes, then make these courses up on computerized “course recovery” programs that do not instill long-term concept mastery—gotta move ‘em up. Some administrators harbor notions that students promoted to High School may find a coach, teacher, or some other school based “mentor type figure” once promoted to High School to help them be successful—even though there is no way to measure this. Gotta move ‘em up! I have even heard anecdotally that at some middle schools the unwritten yet expected practice is that at-risk students are not permitted to receive ANY grade lower than a 59, gotta move ‘em up. “These students really want to play

Graduation Rates in Escambia County Part 1: Making Some Progress

Graduation rates in Escambia have risen over the last decade, and we are making steady, forward progress.  In the graphic above, our most recent state letter grades for High Schools are illustrated.  

Our High School grades are calculated utilizing a formula composed of many parts--one of which is the measurement of the progress of the lowest quartile of students year over year.  Two of our High Schools, Tate and Northview, would have received an "A" letter grade were it not for the fact that the lower quartile students from these schools did not make adequate progress last year as measured by assessment tests.  

With respect to graduation rates, the lowest quartile comes into play as well.  A part of the formula that calculates our graduation rate is based upon the on-time, 4 year graduation rate of all students.  Because we have many students who drop out or do not complete High School in 4 years, our overall graduation rate suffers.  So how do other districts, like Duval County and Leon County, with similar demographics and areas of concentrated poverty manage  graduation rates that are 72.1% and 77% respectively- some of the highest in the state?  How do they beat our Escambia county rate by  as much as 12 percentage points?  How do Lake, Marion, Manatee, and St. Lucie (counties of similar sizes) counties beat our rate by significant margins?

We will look at the reasons in part II

Monday, December 16, 2013

Kesco Responds to District's Debarment Letter

The Escambia County School District's purchasing department received this response on Wednesday from Kesco in response to the debarment notice of Dec. 4th.

From the Kesco Response:

"Please accept this letter as confirmation of receipt of your letter, dated December 4, 2013.  We would like to present our debarment appeal to the members of the Escambia County School Board.  Therefore, the relief requested is a complete reversal and reinstatement.  We feel that clarification of the facts are necessary. After our presentation and in this request for relief, we will vindicate and clear the allegations described in your letter"

At some point after the first of the year, the School Board will hear from Kesco and from the District-- and then vote to determine whether or not to debar Kesco.  The date for that meeting has not been set.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

School Choice: The Future of American Public Education

As a sitting school board member that strongly supports school choice-I know this position puts me in the minority of my peers.  I think the system needs to change.   But it’s much easier for those who control educational decisions at the state and local level to stick with that which is most familiar, and to simply request more and more taxpayer funding to do things the very same way they have always done them.   And the results are, in many instances, not good enough.  Parents want to send their kids to the very best schools, not the schools some bureaucrat tells them they can attend!

Countries around the world are spending less per pupil and achieving better outcomes than we are-and in order to compete with this worldwide educational renaissance, we must innovate and empower parents to choose the right school for their children.  The future of the public school system in America depends upon our willingness to listen to our constituents and evolve; we need to offer a wide assortment of choices and options to all students-to include virtual, traditional, vocational, technical, and even private schools.  Taxpayer funded education for students is a right, and I believe it is a right that we owe the parents—not to a governmental system that in many respects fails.  The entrenched special interests, the educational bureaucracy, and certain politicians believe the exact opposite.  They look at choice as a nuisance or a “scheme” to take funding “from the public schools.”   They look at public expenditures to school districts as “their money”.  Reformers like me believe parents should be in charge, and be empowered to make  educational decisions based upon what is best for their own children.  I would like to see the system evolve to a point where economic market forces were allowed to operate, and parents could choose to take their own tax money and send their students to the best school they could find.  Reformers like me believe that being proactive with choice offerings is the only way to save the public school system.  Otherwise-the way society is evolving, the gap between the educational haves and have nots will continue to widen; The bloated, inefficient, and in many instances ineffective, public school system will collapse of its own weight in many areas of our nation, particularly in areas of extreme, concentrated generational poverty in urban areas…

Education in twenty to thirty years will look very different than it does today.  Homeschooling will continue to grow, and parents with means will in many cases and in many communities choose to pay the extra money necessary to send their students to private school-where they are confident about things such as curriculum, rigor, quality, and SAFETY.  Meanwhile, many middle class and poor students will be left with only limited and less effective school options-which will eventually prompt a demand for change to allow these parents to send their students to the schools they want to utilizing vouchers or “backpack funding.” Why should taxpayers not be able to have free choice as to where they want to send their children with their own tax money? This change is coming; it is only a matter of time.

The failing public schools in Washington DC utilized the Opportunity Scholarship program with great results.  The opportunity scholarship program allowed families who were zoned to failing public schools to take their tax subsidized tuition vouchers and choose a better, more effective school.  The program was very successful.  Democratic politicians scuttled the program.

Here in Florida, the McKay Scholarship program has been very successful in allowing parents of special needs students to send their children to the school of their choice.  Again, a very successful program.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Escambia School District Sends KESCO a Debarment Letter

This letter was sent to Pensacola restaurant supply company KESCO last Wednesday, December 4th, noticing them that they are precluded from doing any business with the school district for a period of two years.

They have ten days to appeal the decision directly to the board if they so choose.

This action is a follow up to the district's ominous food service audit that hit a few months back.

from the letter:

"The School District of Escambia County (the District) hereby notifies you that your firm, KESCO, is prohibited from conducting business with the District for a period of two (2) years from the date of this letter pursuant to correspondence from the School Board General Counsel dated September 21, 2012 stating “work performed by your company for the Escambia County School District should be pursuant to an appropriate purchase order…any future instances of unauthorized work will result in debarment for a period of two (2) years.  Your firm continued to deliver items without the issuance of an authorized purchase order as evidenced by an investigation"