Broward News

Dept. of Education Offers Cash to Schools Willing to Throw a Coup

School principals celebrating summer by sipping cocktails on poolside lounge chairs: Look alive. The federal government will allot $170.2 million to low-achieving Florida schools, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Friday -- but to receive the money, the schools must disband, go charter, or fire their principals.

"When a school continues to perform in the bottom five percent of the state and isn't showing signs of growth or has graduation rates below 60 percent, something dramatic needs to be done," Duncan said in an email.

Schools are broken up into "tiers" that define their need by graduation rates, passage of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), and math and reading proficiency rates. Of the 164 public schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties, just six are considered Tier I or II schools, which the school improvement grant application labels "persistently low-achieving": Coconut Creek High School, Glades Central High School, Lake Worth High School, Larkdale Elementary, Rosenwald Elementary, and Sunland Park Elementary School.

As if to preemptively cut the "rewarding for doing poorly" criticism, Arne outlined four models, one of which school districts must opt for if they apply for funding:

  • TURNAROUND MODEL: Replace the principal, screen existing school staff, and rehire no more than half the teachers; adopt a new governance structure; and improve the school through curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time, and other strategies.
  • RESTART MODEL: Convert a school or close it and re-open it as a charter school or under an education management organization
  • SCHOOL CLOSURE: Close the school and send the students to higher-achieving schools in the district.
  • TRANSFORMATION MODEL: Replace the principal and improve the school through comprehensive curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time, and other strategies.
Blaming the principal for a school's poor showing has been scoffed at in everything from the  Washington Post to mom-and-pop blogs, but this kind of policy is pretty standard in states. I tried calling up the principals of our county Tier I and II schools, but either I was told the principal was unavailable or the phone just rang and rang. School's out for the summer, but it might turn out to be an indefinite vacation.