A few wonderful high schools in Orange County, Florida, the nation’s 10th largest school district, get their good grades under the state’s all-important letter-grade system by shipping off low-achievers, some say against their will, to a for-profit charter school that offers no extracurricular activities to speak of and very little live teaching, USA Today reports.
The paper tells the story of several students, including one girl who wanted to take advantage of the cosmetology program at her high school, Olympia, one of US News & World Report’s 1000 best in the US. She was struggling academically but looking forward to her senior year. One day, she was called into the principal’s office.
There, she was joined by a dozen other students and given a presentation by a representative of Sunshine High, the for-profit charter. The district pays the company that runs Sunshine a “management fee” of $1.5 million a year and, in exchange, Sunshine takes kids whose scores won’t help the big high schools maintain their letter grade out of the system.
US school districts have in the past made great use of alternative schools for students who misbehaved, but the ranking systems now in place have turned alternative education into a “silent release valve for high schools like Olympia that are straining under the pressure of accountability reform,” the paper noted.
What happens to students at Sunshine?
Many of them quit before they get a high school diploma or any kind of certificate. That’s because they go to school, sit in front of a computer screen for several hours, are encouraged to use the internet to cheat on whatever tests they may be given, and then just go home. No clubs. No sports. No band practice. Nothing except being in class.
This kind of disregard for students’ futures on the part of school leaders seems common in other Orlando schools as well, based on student reports. At Lake Nona High School, for instance, one student wrote in the student newspaper for a February 14 op-ed that administrators, whose hands may be tied, often don’t listen to students’ suggestions about making school fun.
“The majority of our ideas are only denied because administration truly believes that time in class, learning, is the most important part of the school and the ‘other stuff’ like pep rallies are only a distraction,” she wrote. “Without any fun or incentives like the ideas and activities [we propose] to administration, students won’t be motivated to come to school and do their best until their school does best by them.”
At Olympia, at least for students who aren’t helping the school’s overall score, the school doesn’t do best by the students, I think, based on news reports.
Furthermore, because grades assigned by any kind of state scoring rubric based too strongly on standardized test scores are controlled by school administrators who have learned to game the system rather than provide students with what they need and want in high school, at least a little, we have to conclude that those grading schemes are flawed.