Update: Florida “double F” charter schools face shutdowns

Travis Pillow

Four Florida charter schools could soon be shut down after receiving multiple F’s under the state’s grading system.

The preliminary letter grades, released this morning by the state Department of Education, are the first that will carry real consequences for schools under a revamped accountability system tied to new state tests once they become final.

In most years, charters that receive F’s in two consecutive years can be shut down automatically. But 2015’s A-F grades were considered an informational baseline that did not carry consequences for schools. The state switched to the Florida Standards Assessment that year, meaning this is the first year the state could calculate learning gains based on multiple years of data from the new tests.

The department explained in a recent memo that charter schools that received an F’s in 2014, 2015, and again this year will face automatic termination. Those that received F’s in 2014 and again this year could also be shut down if they were rated incomplete, or received no grade at all, in 2015.

The four schools that could soon be shut down under those rules are:

  • Richard Allen Leadership Academy (Miami-Dade County)
  • Somerset Eagle High School (Duval County)
  • Just For Girls Academy (Manatee County)
  • University Preparatory Academy Charter School (Pinellas County)

These schools now have 15 days to petition the state Board of Education for a waiver of the automatic shutdown rule. If they can show their students are making greater learning gains than those in nearby schools with similar demographics, they can get an extra year to improve.

The automatic closure rule has been praised by some charter school advocates as a way to ensure accountability for the lowest performing schools, but it’s also faced criticism because it’s more likely to ensnare schools that target academically struggling areas.

Other F-rated charter schools, such as St. Johns County’s St. Paul School of Excellence, have already been shut down, even though the automatic closure rule would not have applied to them school this year.

A total of twelve charters received F’s for the second year in a row, while 28 district-run schools that earned that distinction. While those schools don’t face automatic closure, they will be subject to state-mandated turnarounds, which can bring sweeping changes. The Bradenton Herald reported that a high-poverty school in Manatee County may soon be converted to an academy for gifted students after receiving its fourth straight F.

For public schools as a whole, the results were a mixed bag. The number of A’s fell, but the number of F’s fell faster. Charter schools followed a similar pattern. There were 34 F-rated charter schools last year, and 26 this year. There were 225 A-rated charters last year, and 179 this year.

As in recent years, charter schools were more likely than traditional schools to earn both A’s and F’s.

“It is clear that our focus on Florida’s most struggling students is paying off, especially in our ‘D’ and ‘F’ schools, 58 percent of which increased their grade in 2016,” Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said in a statement accompanying the release of grades. “The great benefit of our state’s accountability system is that it constantly shines a light on areas that need improvement.”

For charters, the bright spots included a pair of Broward charter schools that climbed three letter grades. The Charter School of Excellence jumped from a D to an A, and Rise Academy of Science and Technology rose from an F to a B. Three district schools statewide achieved similar feats.

Meanwhile, few of Florida’s virtual schools received grades in today’s initial release. All but one statewide online education provider was rated incomplete. The one that was graded, Connections Academy, received an A. Similarly, most virtual charter schools did not receive letter grades this year.

Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters explained in an email that schools received incomplete ratings if fewer than 95 percent of their students took state exams. She said the department expects to issue more letter grades in the coming weeks, before the preliminary ratings become final.

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