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Commentary

Charter Schools and Accountability

Local officials where I live reacted very differently to a charter school doing poorly on state testing than they did when a very similar standard public school had the same problem. I found that interesting and explore it in my latest column.

The new Florida Department of Education grades for schools are out, and once again Sarasota County schools earned an A grade and one of the highest grades among counties statewide.

Keep in mind that the state’s schools are graded on a curve, to facilitate comparisons, and Florida recently toughened up its standards. A school only needs 62% of the possible points it could score to get an A. Only three schools in Sarasota County even got 80% of the possible points — Southside Elementary with an 80%, Lakeview Elementary with an 81% and, of course, Pine View got a 93%. Out of the 50 schools in the county, 27 received As, 15 Bs, 7 Cs and one a D.

That said, the scores do seem to capture how well schools are doing compared to one another. The D grade was a charter school—Suncoast School for Innovative Studies — and that provokes some thinking about the role of charter schools in Sarasota.

Charter schools are permitted more autonomy in exchange for delivering better student achievement for fewer taxpayer dollars. SSIS is a Title 1 school, which means it serves a high percentage of low income and academically struggling kids. The school’s scores show pretty low performance overall, particularly in math and science.

The Sarasota County School Board was quick to point this out at a recent meeting, asking why SSIS’s scores were so low. Board member Eric Robinson specifically asked why SSIS did so much more poorly than Emma E. Booker Elementary, a conventional public school that is also Title 1 and has similar students, which got a B grade from the state this year. And these questions were covered in the local news.

This kind of accountability is good and what these grades should lead to. Poor performance has to be questioned and changes made. SSIS is required to submit to the school board a plan for how it will fix things and improve performance and is expected to have that plan this month.

Read the rest of the column here.