Undeterred by the Hernando County School Board’s harsh rebuke of their 2017 application, the organizers of the proposed Chehuntamo Advanced Performance High School will make another bid on Tuesday to siphon taxpayer money from public schools to their private enterprise. Their application hinges on the claim that they will be “recruiting and training the best teachers from the area and later from the country”. Left unanswered is how they intend to employ said professionals and if they will reflect the diversity of Hernando County and the students they intend to serve.
Putting aside the shoddy construction of their submitted presentation and typo-marred application (something highlighted during their 2017 application by the School Board), the rationale for their proposal is flawed. The applicants cite falling enrollment in AP courses at public high schools. That is indeed a cause for concern. The answer to falling demand, however, is not an increased supply. Policymakers should focus on why students are eschewing enrollment in AP courses in the first place.
The state’s assessment-based data offers a clue: in 2018, at none of the district’s five high schools did more than half of the bottom quartile of students see learning gains in either English Language Arts or Mathematics (nevertheless, it was a major improvement over 2016). At most schools, that was significantly below the proportion of students overall who saw academic gains. The data also shows the proportion of students graduating from each high school with AP, IB, AICE, or dual-enrollment credit has been relatively stable (above 50%) for the past three years.
A majority of high school graduates are earning advanced credits, but the lowest-performing students are lagging in academic improvement. It stands to reason, then, that the surest way to improve enrollment in advanced courses is to increase the proportion of students who are academically prepared for them. Indeed, that seems to be exactly what schools are doing, and the evidence suggests that it is working.
That is why it is important to recognize this proposal as part of a larger movement which seeks to undermine public school districts by redirecting their resources to unaccountable businesses. This follows the cruel, disastrous logic of No Child Left Behind, which systematically punished struggling schools whilst depriving them of adequate resources to improve. Many of the challenges facing the district are beyond its control: low teacher pay, chronic underfunding, a teacher shortage exacerbated by state incompetence, and a 21% childhood poverty rate. But it is fully within the Hernando County School Board’s authority to reject the proposed Chehuntamo Advanced Performance High School, and reject it they should. It will only serve to exacerbate systemic inequities for students, while providing “reasonable compensation” for the school’s executives. It is a solution in search of a problem.
Hernando County Progressive Caucus