The Florida Department of Education is touting a report that highlights the charter school movement. Research from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools finds that Florida has eight of the nation’s top 50 districts for the number of charter school students in 2010-11. Orange County is the leader with a 42 percent increase in charter school students over the prior year.
Florida had five charter schools in 1996. Fifteen years later, the state has 519 charter schools. Nearly 71 percent of them are considered high performing, getting an “A” or “B” grade in 2010.
“The growth of charter schools in our state will continue to rise as we deliver viable options to families,” said Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson.
“Charter schools provide options for parents seeking the best learning environment for their children,” said Governor Rick Scott. “Charter schools play an important role in making sure Florida has the best educated workforce.”
On the other hand, two new reports question the effectiveness of charter schools. One examines how the for-profit Imagine Schools, Inc. operates its charter schools, seventeen of which are in Florida. Critics say the company is focused on enrollment over academics as evidenced by their schools’ poor standardized test scores. The other report is a study that looks at the practices and effectiveness of charter school management organizations. Research by Mathematica Policy Research and the Center on Reinventing Public Education found a variety of educational strategies being used that produce a wide range of results in student achievement.
Governor Scott signed the school choice bill in June, allowing for easier expansion of charter schools in the state. In August, Scott told a charter school rally in Orlando that improvement is needed in both charter and traditional schools. They should compete for excellence, he said.
The Department of Education will host the Florida Charter School Conference November 14 – 16 in Orlando. The conference will focus on Florida’s Race to the Top grant, looking to expand high quality charter schools in underperforming communities.