When Michelle Rhee visited a Miami charter school on Thursday to announce that Florida would be the first state to partner with her Students First initiative, it may have been easy for most observers to focus on the star power of the event and not the venue. But the reason that Rhee and newly elected Florida Gov. Rick Scott chose the Florida International Academy for their joint announcement is the same reason why the school’s waiting list for seats has more than 200 names.
The school reaches out to an impoverished community, where all students are children of color and nearly all qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and it delivers on results. In 2002, the state of Florida gave the school a failing grade, based on its dismal core performance in reading and writing. Today, that school has an A grade with a nearly identical demographic, and the majority of its students are now meeting high standards in those subjects.
How it got there exemplifies what Rhee and Scott and President Obama and Arne Duncan have been insisting on: Customizing a public education that best meets a child’s needs, and giving disadvantaged children more educational alternatives than they might otherwise have.
For Florida International, that means following the state’s curriculum standards but constantly redesigning the instruction based on its students’ needs, targeting teaching strategies to the individual student, if necessary, and revisiting those strategies every week, according to Principal Sonia Mitchell, who spoke with redefinED Friday.