As a result of a bill by titled HB7069 which passed in 2017, many schools across the state have faced the threat of potential closure if they receive lower than a “C” grade for two years or more. Based on data from the FL DOE, an estimated 79 schools faced this fate this past school year.
Prior to this, districts had more flexibility in making school closure decisions, allowing them to consider feedback from parents and the impact on the community. And in fact, many districts were able to successfully improve schools with this flexibility. Now, districts must either close a school, turn it over to an external operator, or convert it to a charter school if the school does not increase it’s grade within the specified time period.
The school grading system is questionable at best, which makes closure decisions even more high stakes. In addition to that, with the closure/turnover threats comes additional scrutiny from the state. The Department of Education visits schools to provide even more oversight and interference with district and school operations. This can include scrutiny of teachers during a time that is already stressful for the teachers and students. There are also requirements to remove teachers from the school based on the teacher’s VAM (value-added-model) score, as calculated by the state. Children can lose their beloved teachers during this time of turmoil, who often provide much-needed stability and continuity.
Decision-makers at the state level often forget how important a school is to its local community. In the case of Hawthorne Middle/High School for example, a closure would have dismantled the city. School closures often mean reassigning hundreds of children to other schools that are already overcrowded, creating a ripple effect that has lasting impact.
School turnaround decisions should be made by local districts who are accessible to teachers and parents, know the community, and can listen to their concerns. Schools in need should receive more resources and support, not additional scrutiny and closure threats.