Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti may be taking his talents to the Motor City in a matter of weeks — but that’s not stopping him from issuing advice to the Florida Senate before he goes.
Vitti’s specific recommendation: to reject during budget conference negotiations the “Schools of Hope” charter school measure embodied in HB 5103, which cleared the Florida House last week by a 77 to 40 margin.
“Please reflect on the fact that this bill once used the term ‘Schools of Success’ and not ‘Schools of Hope.’ This is telling and indicative of why it needs to be rejected. The term success could not be used because the suggested turnaround charter schools do not have a record of success—at scale—anywhere,” Vitti asserts.
“This is a multi-million dollar strategy of marketed hope. When did “hope” become a strategy? This is not even about hope, though. We have no research or data to be hopeful that this strategy will work—it will not. The research and data already tell us this,” Vitti adds.
Vitti, perhaps cognizant of being an appointed superintendent (and perhaps with one eye on Detroit), notes that his is not a “political critique.”
“I write and send this letter as someone who has done the real work of improving urban schools, someone who has the scars of reform as a teacher, principal, state administrator, principal supervisor, and superintendent,” Vitti notes.
Vitti takes issue with HB 5103 for several reasons.
For one, there won’t be enough “turnaround charters” in Florida to satisfy student demand, both because per-pupil funding is too low, and because Florida’s accountability standards further impact revenue.
Secondly, Title I public schools already outperform charter schools serving the same demographics.
Additionally, this model is yet another move by the current iteration of the Florida Legislature to usurp local control in favor of an untested state standard. And, asserts Vitti, school choice exists already without charters, as Florida has one of the most “robust” menu of escape hatches from failing schools in the United States.
In lieu of boosting charters, Vitti suggests adjusting per-pupil funding, weighting it toward students from poor backgrounds. He also would like to see the best teachers and students turn their attention toward at-risk populations. And consistent standards applied from Tallahassee to evaluate schools and districts, as they have changed dozens of times in recent years.
Showing a certain chutzpah, Vitti invokes a potential future employer in arguing for standards affecting his current one.
“Please review the history of Detroit Public Schools. It provides a case study of what Legislatures and Governors should avoid when attempting to improve lower performance in urban districts.”
“The story is one of local resistance to state usurpation on decisions that should rest with local communities and school boards. It is a story of a political and blinded policy that distrusts traditional public education for private-like solutions that have no track record of success at scale,” Vitti notes.